Inside Report: Rezoning issue prompts recall effort in Gonzales

By Bret H. McCormick

River Parishes bureau

A vote against rezoning a portion of the Edenborne traditional neighborhood development in Gonzales so Emerson Process Management could locate its regional headquarters on a 17.57-acre tract of property appears to be the heart of a recall effort againsta Gonzales councilman.

A group of residents is trying to force Gary Lacombe out of office, having filed a recall petition against the councilman with the Secretary of State’s Office on April 11. Lacombe, a first-term councilman, was elected in November and took office in January.

Since taking office, his detractors claim, he’s spearheaded a majority of the council into making decisions that are not in the best interest of the city.

Claston Bernard, who unsuccessfully sought a seat on the council in November and is the co-chairman of the group pushing for Lacombe’s recall, offered a scathing indictment of the councilman’s first few months on the job.

Bernard accused Lacombe of teaming with fellow first-term Councilman Tim Vessel and Mayor Pro Tem Terance Irvin and “working together to derail the city of Gonzales.” When asked why the group was targeting only Lacombe for recall if it has issues with Irvin and Vessel, Bernard said it was “very clear” that Lacombe is the group’s leader.

In the Nov. 6 election, Irvin defeated Bernard, both Democrats, by 286 votes in the Division D race. Vessel, a Democrat, ran in Division C, defeating longtime incumbent Ronald J. “Joe” Waguespack, a Republican. Lacombe, a Democrat, ran in Division E, defeating Republican John Cagnolatti by 180 votes.

Serving with Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel on the City Council are Kenny Matassa and Kirk J. Boudreaux. All five serve at large, although they run in divisions.

“Gary Lacombe seems to be the one who’s leading everything, and they’re just agreeing with him,” Bernard said.

He claimed the councilmen are making decisions “based on vendettas and whatever their personal aspirations are.”

The root of the issue appears to be the March 18 vote in which the three councilmen said no to an industrial rezoning for Emerson. At that meeting, Bernard challenged the three councilmen to explain why they were voting against a major economic development project for the city.

Lacombe said he was concerned about having an industrial zone next to Edenborne’s traditional neighborhood development. The council later voted unanimously to rezone the property commercial and extend Emerson a special-use permit.

Despite that compromise, Bernard said he’s seeing a pattern in which the city is being harmed by the majority on the new council.

The recall group has 180 days — until Oct. 8 — to gather 2,147 certified signatures, one-third of the city’s registered voters, to get the recall election on the ballot.

If voters agree to remove Lacombe from office, he would not be prevented from running in a special election to fill the vacated seat.

Lacombe said on April 17 he was aware of the recall effort but hadn’t seen the petition, and therefore didn’t have a comment on it. He denied having an anti-Gonzales agenda, instead saying it was quite the opposite.

Irvin and Vessel, too, have said the decisions they are making are in the best interest of the city and its residents.

Lacombe reiterated he is committed to doing the job city voters elected him to do.

“I’m going to continue working real hard to help the city move forward,” Lacombe said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what I promised to do, and that’s what I will continue to do.”

Bret H. McCormick covers Gonzales city government for The Advocate. He can be reached at bmccormick@theadvocate.com.