Sorrento, a town of 1,401 people in southeast Ascension Parish, may be small, but it has had some big problems.
Brenda Melancon spent nearly three decades working for the town, and she said it has never been as dysfunctional as it is today.
Melancon, an author who literally wrote the book on Sorrento’s history, spent 20 years working as a town clerk and later was elected to serve two terms as the town’s mayor. The town wasn’t perfect, she said, but it didn’t have the bickering or the public perception problems that are plaguing it today.
Incorporated in 1956, Sorrento saw stable leadership over its first half a century. George Savario served as mayor for 18 years, and he was followed by the LeBlanc dynasty — cousins Willis and John LeBlanc served from 1973 to 1987, while John’s wife, Bertice, served the final two years of her husband’s term following his death. Wilson Longanecker Sr. served two terms (1989-97), and Melancon served two terms (1997-2001, 2005-09) with Camile Trabeau sandwiched between.
During those days, the mayors enjoyed a stable relationship with town council members, while the town’s police department protected the town without many problems, Melancon said.
“There was nothing like you see going on right now,” said Melancon, herself no stranger to controversy after being arrested in an October 2007 accident, killing a motorcyclist on Airline Highway. A grand jury declined to indict Melancon in the incident.
The town has seen its share of controversy over the past four years, plagued by resignations of mayors and council members, and a police department that has seen officers fired and an investigation by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The problems started, Melancon said, after a close mayoral election in April 2009, when Blake LeBlanc defeated Randy Anny by 21 votes.
LeBlanc, however, quit 18 months later, saying he couldn’t work with a town council that tried to undermine his authority.
LeBlanc is not the only elected official to resign in frustration in recent years. Only one of the five council members who took office with LeBlanc in July 2009 remains on the council. The lone survivor is Milton “Needlenose” Vicknair. He served three terms on the former Ascension Parish Police Jury and Ascension Parish Council, so he knows a thing or two about political battles.
Larry Lee resigned less than two weeks into his second term on the Sorrento Town Council. John Braud resigned in May 2010 over a dispute about town telephone bills and records. Anny, who chose not to seek re-election to the council in 2009 and pursued the mayoral office instead, defeated Blake LeBlanc’s wife, Stephanie, in a special election in October 2010.
Wilson Longanecker Jr., the son of the former mayor, left the council after winning a special election for mayor that was hotly contested, included a lawsuit which led to a revote by eight voters sent to the wrong polling location and ended with a margin of one vote — against Anny in March 2011. Longanecker became the fourth mayor since Blake LeBlanc took office.
Melancon served as interim mayor for six months following LeBlanc’s resignation and resigned after Longanecker defeated Anny. However, Anny’s legal challenge to the results prevented Longanecker from taking office initially, so Jason Adams served for two months until Longanecker’s election became official.
Adams now sits on the town council, after being the only candidate to qualify for a special election to replace Lionel Melancon, who resigned in January following two consecutive heated council meetings that ended before the agendas were complete.
Melancon said Sorrento needs a healing process, and that starts with electing new leadership in April.
Bret H. McCormick covers government and education at The Advocate’s River Parishes bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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