Zachary City Hall

A heated discussion broke out at the Zachary City Council’s meeting Tuesday when one council member brought up the possibility of the panel hiring its own attorney ahead of the release of a legislative auditor’s report on the city government.

No action was taken on the matter, but it sparked several minutes of intense back and forth between Councilman Lael Montgomery and Mayor David Amrhein.

It all started when Councilwoman Laura O’Brien suggested that the council get its own legal representation rather than relying on the city attorney’s office, which serves the mayor, city administration and council.

“If push comes to shove … I don’t think we can protect all three of us at the same time,” she said.

O’Brien was vague about why she had brought the issue up. When a surprised Councilman Francis Nezianya questioned why another attorney would be necessary, O’Brien responded: “you’ll find out this week.”

Montgomery later jumped into the discussion and asked the council, “Did the city tell any of y’all they were being audited?” He asked Amrhein why the council hadn’t been informed the legislative auditor was investigating the city.

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“I don’t have to. … That’s a day to day function that you have no authority on,” Amrhein said.

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“If you feel like, as a leader, the city can be audited and you not tell us and that’s cool, then I don’t know what to say about your leadership,” Montgomery replied.

After a few minutes of back and forth — which revealed few details about the audit — Nezianya had heard enough.

“If we have something to discuss, I encourage every one of us to call each other and let’s try to iron the differences behind the door before coming out here and shouting,” he said.

“I don’t want to be part of this body if we’re going to come here and be shouting like this. It’s very embarrassing,” he added.

Earlier in the meeting, the council’s effort to hire the CSRS planning and engineering firm to do a drainage master plan for the city hit a snag when members attempted to take a vote and Amrhein pointed out that they don’t have the authority to amend the budget, which has already been set for this year.

City Attorney John Hopewell said there are only a few circumstances that permit the council to change the budget, such as during emergencies.

Amrhein said the city should know in a month or so how much money it will receive from the state via the Louisiana Watershed Initiative and whether those funds can be spent on the modeling CSRS has proposed.