Newly Formed City Council Has Heated First Meeting

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By Dave Freneaux

In the first meeting of the Central City Council since the exit of Joan Lansing and Lucky Ross, new Councilmen LoBue and Messina very quickly became involved in the Council process.  In what was almost certainly the longest Council meeting in recent years, the Council and public debated and spoke for over three hours.  Facing a publication deadline less than an hour away, this article will be as concise a retelling of the meeting as can be accomplished under time pressure.
Mayor Watts requested that the Council confirm his re-appointment of the City Clerk and the Court Magistrate, which the Council did unanimously.  Mayor Watts then requested that the Council confirm his re-appointment of City Attorney Sheri Morris.  Councilman LoBue requested that Ms. Morris only be retained for 90 days while a search could be done to interview other potential applicants for the position.  It was pointed out that it is the Mayor's right to submit the candidate for appointment and that the role of the Council is to either confirm or disapprove of the Mayor's choice.  The re-appointment of Ms. Morris as Central's City Attorney was moved and seconded.  Councilmen Moak and DeJohn approved the appointment but Councilmen LoBue, Messina and Washington denied confirmation and effectively terminated Ms. Morris, leaving the City without legal representation.  Seeing that this was an unacceptable situation, the Council acted to restore Ms. Morris as the City Attorney for a period of 90 days.  It is unclear from the discussion whether the Mayor intends to allow Council members to involve themselves in his selection of a City Attorney to be submitted for confirmation in the next 90 days.
The Council then attempted to select a Mayor Pro-Tempore, being the Councilman who fills in in the absence of the Mayor.  Councilman DeJohn made a non-binding request that the Councilmen elect this position but refrain from voting for themselves, which would be the rule if this were a paid position.  Moak and DeJohn voted for Messina, Messina abstained, and LoBue and Washington voted for Washington.  With a tie, no new Mayor Pro-Tempore was elected so Mr. Washington will continue in that position until another vote is taken.
Ordinances were introduced for discussion at the July 27th Council meeting, including a move to cut funding for the City's Master Plan from $100,000 to $50,000 and to delete the entire $50,000 funding for Economic Development.  An ordinance by Mr. Moak was approved which enacted a 6 month moratorium on approval of any additional C-AB-2 zonings, which are bars, while the issue is studied by the Council to determine what zoning rules will best serve Central in the long term.
Mr. DeJohn presented the new graduated Permit Fee structure which places Central below neighboring cities in large commercial projects such as the Central School construction.  The new total of permit fees which will be paid for all of Central's school renovations and construction will be approximately $87,000.  Mr. DeJohn also presented data supporting that Central's residential construction permit fees are only about 10% higher than those of Baton Rouge.
Finally, Councilmen LoBue, Messina and Washington co-sponsored a resolution supporting the release of documents in possession of CH2M HILL relating to an advertisement it published in the Advocate.  Much heated discussion ensued with a final vote of 3 to 1 in favor, with DeJohn voting no and Moak abstaining.  The resolution has no binding effect on CH2M HILL.