Laf. sports complex delivered blow
The Lafourche Parish Council rejected a $300,000 design contract related to a proposed multi-purpose sports center on donated land in Lockport, halting progress on the project and delivering a blow to its potential construction.
Councilmen Aaron Caillouet and Lindel Toups were the resolution’s only supporters in a 6-2 vote against the contract. Parish Administrator Archie Chiasson III said the parish administration would likely resubmit the contract for council approval.
Dissent did not focus on the contract, but the general project.
The proposed community center would include a competition swimming pool and basketball court, a 10,000-square-foot pavilion, meeting rooms and a commercial kitchen.
Lockport-based Valentine LLC, owned by Hugh Caffery, last summer expressed a willingness to donate 5 acres of land at the intersection of La. Highways 308 and 655.
The parish council approved Caffery’s non-binding letter of intent, which also set forth a desired timeline for the parish to achieve benchmarks related to the project – one being that the parish complete the design process by the end of 2014.
Councilman Jerry LaFont claimed the community center would better serve the parish in Raceland or near U.S. Highway 90 on a wider swath of land. Considering the project was first floated publicly last summer, LaFont also complained the community center had leapfrogged drainage works in the parish’s capital outlay queue.
Councilman Joe Fertitta said he would not support spending money on a design contract until the land is transferred to parish ownership, and Councilman John Arnold demurred because Parish President Charlotte Randolph vetoed earlier recreation appropriations approved by the council, he said.
The project, expected to cost $4.1 million has been approved to receive $2.6 million in Gustav and Ike Community Development Block Grant recovery funding. The parish set $1.5 million aside for the project last year and applied for $500,000 in grant funding from the Gheens Foundation.
RANDOLPH PROMOTES FINANCE DIRECTOR FROM WITHIN
Renita Jackson, a Lafourche Parish Government accountant for nearly 13 years, was approved as the parish’s next finance director by a 6-2 council vote.
Councilmen Joe Fertitta and Jerry LaFont opposed Jackson’s appointment. She was nominated by Parish President Charlotte Randolph at the first meeting after Randolph parted ways with Dennis Muckelroy, in the position for less than a year.
Jackson can retain her accrued benefits and current position – accounting manager – if she chooses to return to it, but she would have to make the move by the end of 2015.
Civil service employees who want to accept an unclassified position within the parish can be granted a special leave of absence without pay, according to the parish’s civil service manual. The employee would return to the classified position upon resignation or termination from the unclassified position, but protection cannot exceed two years or the end of the current parish president’s term, which ends next year.
Jackson, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and associate’s in computer science, both from Nicholls State University, joined Lafourche as an accountant II in 2001. She was promoted to accountant III a decade later and to accounting manager in January 2013.
Jackson’s resume boasts she took a leadership role in crafting the 2013 and 2014 parish budgets. She has served as the department’s interim director since Muckelroy’s departure.
LPG RENEWS MEMBERSHIP WITH NONPROFIT SLEC
The parish council unanimously agreed to pay $25,000 in membership dues to the South Louisiana Economic Council, a nonprofit economic-development organization.
Lafourche leaders have scrutinized the transfer of taxpayer funds to nonprofit organizations, rejecting several proposals and subjecting approved allocations to reporting requirements laid out in a parish ordinance.
The council last year approved allocations to the Cut Off Youth Center and Larose Civic Center and Regional Park for capital improvements. Parish President Charlotte Randolph vetoed the allotments, which the council overrode.
Parish administrator Archie Chiasson III acknowledged the means to determine an appropriate allocation to a nonprofit is not clear-cut but said Lafourche receives a benefit from its membership in excess of the required dues, which is the standard derived from a state Supreme Court ruling.
The attorney general’s office has interpreted the ruling to mean that granting entities must show a public purpose and have a reasonable expectation of receiving at least equivalent value in exchange for the funding. The transfer, when taken as a whole, cannot appear gratuitous. To be legal, appropriations to nongovernmental entities must meet all three of these conditions.
The parish is guided by one ordinance, passed unanimously in 2005. It states that requesting entities – “any board, agency or non-profit organization” – must provide the council with a copy of audited finances before the transfer. Lafourche’s finance department has the authority to review the audited finances and give a report on its findings. The ordinance further stipulates appropriations should be dedicated to specific projects and that recipients give progress reports every six months.
The SLEC measure was sponsored by the administration, so a veto isn’t being considered, Chiasson said.
Chiasson characterized SLEC and Greater New Orleans, Inc., another regional economic development organization the parish pledges membership to, as lobbying firms that focus on spurring local businesses and providing solutions to industrial challenges – which have ranged from the post-BP moratorium to the Biggert-Waters Act and workforce development.
SLEC CEO Vic Lafont urged councilmembers to route issues faced by their district’s companies to SLEC and said the economic council will continue to address workforce issues.
COUNCIL TO FORM
SOLID WASTE COMMITTEE
Council Chairman Daniel Lorraine announced the formation of a five-person committee that will examine all aspects of ongoing solid waste issues, including soliciting bids for the next garbage collection contract.
Lorraine will represent parish government alongside councilmen Lindel Toups and Joe Fertitta. Filling out the committee will be representatives from the Golden Meadow and Lockport municipalities. Councilman Jerry LaFont was appointed as an alternate committee member.
All of Lafourche, excluding the City of Thibodaux, is under the same garbage contract, funded through a seven-tenths of a cent sales tax. Because the council rolled the tax back from a full cent, it has the authority to increase the tax by three-tenths of a cent without the public’s approval.
Progressive Waste Solutions, formerly IESI/SWDI, is the contracted trash collector. The parish pays Progressive $580,000 per month for the service, and the contract is set to expire Dec. 31.
The committee could draw up bid specifications for the next contract, Lorraine said, but any action will need the full council’s approval.