Gonzales voters oust Councilman Timothy Vessel in recall election _lowres

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Timothy Vessel, Sr. Councilman/Drainage & Environmental Commissioner

Timothy Vessel became the first Gonzales councilman to be recalled in the history of the city on Saturday, when 75 percent of the voters cast ballots to oust him, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I thank God for the two years the people entrusted me on the council,” Vessel said Saturday night.

Chuck LeBlanc, chairman of the recall effort Save Gonzales, said that after a nine-month drive, the group was elated.

“It’s a great night for the city of Gonzales,” he said. “The people of the city have spoken. They wanted a change for the city to do what it needs to do to grow and prosper.”

Vessel faced the recall election alone after former Councilman Gary Lacombe, also targeted for recall by the grass-roots organization, avoided the election when he resigned Nov. 25.

The recall effort against the two men, both of whom were elected to the council in 2012, was launched in April in large part because of bloc voting on the council by Lacombe and Vessel along with longtime Councilman Terance Irvin.

A recall effort was never launched against Irvin.

The three councilmen repeatedly outvoted Councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux, rejecting rezoning requests along the way and making changes to city budgets that led to budget vetoes by Mayor Barney Arceneaux and a monthslong delay in putting the 2014-15 city budgets into place.

Two suits have been filed against the city over rezoning requests that were denied.

Vessel has been a controversial figure since he took office.

On Nov. 4, the day of the primary, Vessel was issued a citation by Gonzales city police on allegations he violated state election laws by riding a bicycle with campaign signs on it too close to polling stations. The signs opposed the recall election against him and Lacombe.

On Dec. 12, 2013, Vessel was found guilty of misdemeanor attempted theft of utilities by an Ascension Parish Court judge and fined $100 plus court costs.

In that case, Vessel was accused of plugging in an extension cord to a vacant trailer in a Gonzales trailer park in order to run an air compressor for repairs to his home. Vessel said during the trial that he thought he had permission to use the electricity.

Throughout the controversies, Vessel and Lacombe never said much publicly about their decisions or explained to the council or to the media the reasoning behind their votes.

Lacombe’s resignation, which came close to two weeks before Saturday’s election, took people in Gonzales by surprise.

In his letter of resignation to the Secretary of State’s Office, Lacombe cited as his accomplishments during his partial term in office: a balanced city budget and the council’s “record of rejecting proposed zoning changes that would have given unfair advantages to certain property owners over others.”

Arceneaux said he supported Lacombe’s decision to resign.

“We obviously feel this is a necessary step toward resolving our issues and moving the city forward,” he said.

The city of Gonzales has until Dec. 15 to appoint someone to fill Lacombe’s seat until a special election can be held to fill the remainder of Lacombe’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2016.

In such cases of appointment, the person appointed is recommended by the mayor and approved by the council.

Last week, Arceneaux said he expected that the City Council at its meeting Monday would make a proclamation to call the special election.

He said the Secretary of State’s Office has given the date of March 28 for the election.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, someone recalled from office has nine days to contest the recall election.

Public officials recalled from office are prohibited by state law from qualifying for the same office in the special election called to fill the remainder of the term.