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Zachary City Hall Annex before its face-lift

Zachary City Council members were unable to agree Tuesday on who should fill the vacant District 2 council seat until an election can be held next year — meaning the decision will now fall to Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Four separate motions to appoint one of the four people who showed up to pitch themselves for the interim job were all unsuccessful. One motion failed on a 2-1 vote, less than three votes required; the others failed for lack of a second.

Selecting someone to temporarily hold the seat recently vacated by Councilman Brandon Noel requires a majority vote of the five-member council under Zachary’s home rule charter, said City Attorney John Hopewell. Councilman Francis Nezianya was absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to a family emergency, so all three of the other members would have had to vote in favor of a candidate.

Those who came to the special meeting in hopes of securing the job were Beetle Fisher, Emily Landry, John LeBlanc and Taylor Watts. All except Watts said they intend to seek the remainder of Noel's term in the election. The council voted to set that election on Nov. 3 for the two years remaining in the term at that time.

Each applicant on Tuesday spoke about their qualifications for three minutes and responded to questions from their potential new colleagues. Some common issues surfaced: that it’s important to listen to constituents’ concerns, and that the city needs to continue to promote residential and business growth, but in a smart way.

Councilman Lael Montgomery asked each candidate if he or she knew what UDC stands for. Some of them struggled to name the words represented by the initialism — Unified Development Code, which governs planning and zoning matters in Zachary and currently is being overhauled by an outside firm.

Montgomery said he was disappointed that people interested in serving on the council hadn’t familiarized themselves with such an important document.

“When you come up here, you really have to do your homework,” he said. “I can’t make decisions for my constituents without doing my homework.”

Montgomery then motioned to appoint LeBlanc, who has been a frequent presence at council meetings for the past year. Councilwoman Laura O’Brien seconded, but Councilman Hunter Landry voted no, causing the motion to fail.

O’Brien said she was hesitant to appoint any of the three applicants planning to run in the election because it could be perceived as the council giving one of them a leg up in the race. It's up to voters — not council members — to decide which political candidates they want to put in office, O'Brien said, adding in an interview after the meeting that she was particularly uncomfortable with the possible appointment of Fisher because she is Mayor David Amrhein’s sister-in-law.

When O’Brien motioned to appoint Watts, who was only seeking the temporary job, no one seconded. The same outcome was yielded when O’Brien motioned to appoint Emily Landry and when Hunter Landry motioned to appoint Fisher.

Hunter Landry said the council members will pass along their notes from Tuesday’s meeting to Edwards. The governor, however, is not limited to choosing an interim council member from the pool of four who came to the meeting, Hopewell said.

The council did manage to agree on scheduling the election for Nov. 3, 2020 — meaning the council race will be on the ballot the same day as the presidential election. The candidate qualifying period is July 15-17.

City leaders originally had wanted to let District 2 residents vote on the matter in April; however, that would have cost the city about $50,000, Hopewell said. Holding the election in November, when there are more items on the ballot, will likely mean a much lower bill, likely in the neighborhood of $6,000, he said.

Editor's Note: This story was changed on Dec. 4 to clarify a discussion on the Unified Development Code.