The attorney for two Ascension Parish planning commissioners demanded a public apology Tuesday and an immediate retraction of “serious and grave” allegations the owner of Houmas House plantation leveled at the pair.
Attorney R. Gray Sexton also defended the commissioners’ actions and comments last month that gave rise to the allegations as “entirely consistent with the highest levels of governmental conduct” and in accord with their state-required training.
Sexton, former longtime state ethics administrator, asserted Houmas House owner Kevin Kelly had intentionally or negligently “misconstrued” the commissioners’ comments.
Sexton also said Kelly’s statements could lead to litigation, absent an apology and retraction.
Sexton specifically referred to Kelly’s public accusations that Commissioners Daniel Satterlee and Milton Clouatre Jr. had committed “blackmail” in their dealings with Kelly.
Kelly said he was pressured during a site visit July 12 to solicit Parish Council support to abolish a zoning ordinance potentially in the way of a Houmas House project in exchange for commission approval of the project.
The Ascension Parish sheriff and district attorney have disputed Kelly’s assertions, saying the two commissioners did not break any laws in approaching Kelly about zoning issues.
Sexton said Kelly had raised false claims “to pressure” the parish Planning Commission to approve Kelly’s project and dismissed suggestions that Kelly misunderstood the commissioners on July 12.
“Unfortunately, his continued persistence and efforts to file charges against my clients both with the Sheriff’s Office, with the District Attorney’s Office and with other governmental agencies suggests that he has an untoward motive,” Sexton said during a news conference at his Baton Rouge office.
Commissioners Satterlee and Clouatre sat next to Sexton but did not comment.
Kelly is proposing construction of a hotel, bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and other structures at the plantation along River Road in connection with a federally funded steamboat museum on the Mississippi River batture.
Kelly’s expansion project is on the commission agenda for 6 p.m. Wednesday after being pulled last month.
Disputing Kelly’s version of events on July 12, Sexton said the commissioners met with Kelly to let him know his project is not in compliance with the law and only a legal change would allow it to go forward as proposed.
Sexton said the commissioners suggested Kelly talk with the Parish Council member representing the district encompassing his Houmas House property because only the council can change the law.
“That was the end of the conversation, and any distortion that might have developed is entirely that of Mr. Kelly’s,” Sexton said.
In a separate interview Tuesday, Kelly said he sees no reason to apologize to Satterlee and Clouatre and said a July 12 letter to parish officials laying out the allegations “states the facts of what occurred.”
“What did I do? I need an apology. They need to apologize to me for delaying my project,” Kelly said.
Houmas House is inside two overlays, carved-out areas in Ascension where special planning and zoning rules apply.
One overlay calls for design approval of projects on or around historic sites. The other calls for the use of planned unit developments for larger projects. Kelly does not want a PUD, a controversial form of development in Ascension.
Parish government personnel have recommended conditional commission approval, pending PUD overlay changes.