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Council prepared to move forward

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

Mayor Pro-Tempore Ray Helen Lawrence has formed a planning committee of residents in hopes that a Christmas celebration on Dec. 21 will bring the city of Port Allen together.

“It will show that we are trying to show a concerted effort with what we’re doing with the city,” she said.

The five city council members all seemed keen on moving forward at a committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the first city council meeting since former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter vacated office following a successful recall election.

On Dec. 4, council members and other city officials talked of plans for the city’s future, including the Christmas celebration, a possible new location for the police department, improvements to the city’s water mains, a phase-in replacement of all gas meters and possible grant application for wastewater collection improvements.

Council members did not mention the former mayor or the various controversies since January until resident Nikesha Joseph presented the council with a list of questions.

Joseph, a supporter of the former mayor, asked Council Member Garry Hubble if he plans on reinstating the utility clerks who resigned under Slaughter’s administration. She also asked if he has thought about possible wrongful termination lawsuits resulting from replacing the current utility clerks.

Hubble said, yes, he would like to reinstate the clerks who left under Slaughter’s administration. He said he has also spoken with City Attorney Lance Joseph about the legal implications of that action.

Hubble said he cannot terminate, but that, “The issue needs to be discussed.”

He contends that the city’s hiring protocol was not followed for the current utility clerks. Council Member Hugh Riviere explained to Joseph how he believes that Slaughter hired the clerks based on insufficient and misleading public notice of the open positions.

Joseph also asked Council Member R.J. Loupe why he didn’t meet with residents requesting his presence this summer via phone call and certified letter.

“You didn’t respond,” she said. “Please explain your reason for not trying to work with us to allow your constituents to voice their concerns.”

Loupe said, “I have a very ill, sick lady in my house, and I could not leave when I wanted to. I could not, and I’m still struggling – but thanks for asking.”

Joseph asked Riviere a similar question on why he spoke at the Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon in East Baton Rouge Parish this summer when residents were also requesting his presence (albeit, not at the same exact time).

“Why was your attendance at the Republican’s luncheon more important than meeting with the citizens of Port Allen?” she said.

Riviere said, “I went there to give those folks a more full picture of what’s going on in Port Allen as opposed to a minute and a half news story or a 10-second news bite.”

He said that he didn’t meet with those residents because they already attend the council meetings every month. “I think the people who wanted to meet with me in Port Allen are up here every month,” he said. “Why go to repeat the same things over and over to the same crowd?”

Following a moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting, Lawrence’s pastor, Rev. Fred Jeff Smith of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, called Port Allen “the jewel of the west side” and encouraged togetherness following the recall election.

Lawrence said the Christmas event will start with a parade from Port Allen Middle School down Jefferson Ave. to the levee, where the celebration will continue. The parade will take place at 4 p.m. on Dec. 21, where former NFL defensive back Randall “Blue” Gay will be the Grand Marshal. There will also be special appearances by Port Allen’s Brandy Hotard, who was selected as a top 40 contestant on American Idol, and Eric Breaux, another American Idol contestant.

Lawrence said the festival is “well-planned” and that the committee already has one or two vendors. She said they agreed to waive the licenses and permits those vendors would need in order to sell their products at the event.

After the meeting, Lawrence told the West Side Journal that the committee has $600 in city funds for the event.

Resident Regina Rizzutto came forward during the meeting as a member of the committee. Rizzutto said the committee is also looking into additional forms of funding.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle but we can get it done,” she said of the time crunch.

Lawrence did not respond to an email Tuesday asking for the full list of committee members.

Lawrence said during the meeting that she hopes the festival “will be something of healing” following “all of this turmoil that we’ve gone through within the last eight or nine months.”

“We do hope everybody will participate,” she said.

In other news, a hearing for the 18th Judicial District Court case “McCain versus Slaughter” has been continued until Jan. 29, according to the West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s office.

January will mark almost a year since the former mayor fired CFO Audrey McCain and McCain brought the case to court. Judge Alvin Batiste Jr. reinstated McCain to her position via a preliminary injunction.

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