GONZALES — One candidate for Donaldsonville City Council was disqualified Wednesday and another was allowed to stay in his race.
Interim Judge Emile St. Pierre ruled that Trevis Fernandez, 46, met state and city candidacy requirements while Donaldsonville businesswoman Shentelle "Lou" Daigle did not.
The ruling against Daigle means four-term incumbent Councilman Reginald Francis has won a fifth term to his District 3 seat. No one else was challenging him for reelection Nov. 3.
But a fellow incumbent councilman, the Rev. Charles Brown, faces two challengers this fall. David Joseph Jr., of Donaldsonville, is also running for Brown's District 4 seat in addition to Fernandez. All are Democrats.
Daigle is one of the organizers of the Donaldsonville Community Care Committee. The group had a march and rally last month in which committee members and other speakers called for change in the city's economic conditions and questioned the city leadership's past efforts to spur that kind of change.
DONALDSONVILLE — Organizers, current and former state legislators, and others called for improved economic and housing opportunities and great…
Donaldsonville, a majority African American city on the west bank of Ascension, hasn't benefited from the same kind of population and commercial growth as eastern Ascension over the past two and a half decades. The poverty rate in the city of nearly 8,500 is close to 40%, census estimates say.
The Community Care Committee has endorsed a slate of candidates challenging Mayor Leroy Sullivan and four of the five council incumbents — including Fernandez in his race against Councilman Brown and Daigle in her race against Francis.
Councilmen Francis and Brown had filed separate challenges in 23rd Judicial District Court against their respective opponents over the same issue: residency.
Their opponents' voter registrations listed them as living outside the council districts in which they were running. And the challengers had continued to vote at Donaldsonville-area polling precincts that weren't in those districts, according to testimony Wednesday.
But, in separate hearings, the defendants' attorneys, Seth Dornier and Jonathan Holloway, introduced driver's licenses, utility bills, bills of property sales, homestead exemptions, motor vehicle titles and other documents showing the defendants' current home addresses for the past several years matched up with the addresses on their candidacy forms.
Both candidates had also sought to change their voter registrations to their newer addresses after qualifying last month, parish registrar officials testified.
Donaldsonville's home rule charter requires candidates live in their council district for at least six months prior to voting and be eligible to vote in the city.
Judge St. Pierre found that Fernandez and Daigle were living and domiciled in the council districts for which they were seeking office. But he ruled against Daigle because her current voter registration was for an old address outside the city limits.
Fernandez, even though he wasn't registered to vote in the correct council district, was registered to vote in the city limits. So he met the city rules, the judge found.
Saying the law leans toward keeping candidates on the ballot, St. Pierre opined that more should be done to encourage people to seek public office.
"We want people to run for office. In my opinion, not enough people run for office," he said.
The testimony leading up to St. Pierre's rulings revealed contradictions in the voter registration verification process.
Under questioning from City Attorney Chuck Long, Parish Registrar of Voters Robert Poche' testified that Fernandez has voted 18 times since 2008 in a precinct in Council District 1, most recently on Nov. 16, 2019.
Poche' said repeated state canvassing attempts designed to check if Fernandez's address had changed actually verified it had remained the same, inside District 1 and outside the district in which Fernandez now is running.
But Fernandez later testified that he has lived in District 4 on Evangeline Drive with his wife and two daughters since Hurricane Gustav hit the state in 2008 and destroyed his old mobile home on West 6th Street in District 1. The mobile home was demolished and the District 1 property on West 6th has been vacant for years, he said.
It wasn't clear from testimony where repeated voter canvassing forms that the state had mailed to Fernandez's old, demolished home wound up over the past 12 years.
In a later interview, Councilman Brown wished Fernandez luck in his run for office. He said he no hard feelings about the ruling but was advised to file a challenge, so a court could rule on the registration questions.
Fernandez said he was blessed for the court victory and ready to run.