Gonzales mayor, police chief, councilmen sign recall petitions

In a public gesture of solidarity with a local recall effort, the Gonzales mayor, police chief and two city councilmen on Wednesday signed recall petitions seeking to oust two of three city councilmen who have formed a voting bloc on the five-member council.

“From the time the two guys got elected, from the very beginning, they got negative on us,” Mayor Barney Arceneaux said of councilmen Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel, the subjects of the recall effort.

“It’s been a problem from the very beginning,” Arceneaux said after he signed the petition Wednesday night.

Arceneaux, Police Chief Sherman Jackson and councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux signed the petitions at a meeting of SaveGonzales, the group of residents who in April initiated the recall effort against Lacombe and Vessel.

Late last month, the organization announced that it had gotten the 2,145 signatures required to get each petition on the ballot and were continuing to get additional signatures beyond that.

“Y’all took the ball and ran with it,” Councilman Kenny Matassa said to recall volunteers after signing the petition. “We said we’d come on in the end, if you got there, and here we are.

“We did all we can at the meetings,” Matassa said of attempts by himself and Boudreaux to try to outflank the three-vote coalition on the other side of issues. Matassa and Boudreaux are regularly outvoted on the council.

In the past year, councilmen Lacombe, Vessel and Terance Irvin have voted as a bloc to reject numerous rezoning requests, drawing the ire of some residents and business owners.

The battle on the divided council came to a head this spring over the city’s budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that began three months ago — without a budget in place.

Twice now — in May and in August — the mayor has vetoed capital outlay and general fund budgets because of amendments made by Lacombe, Vessel and Irvin.

The amendments cut funding to the Gonzales Police Department and the Ascension Economic Development Corp.

A factor in Arceneaux’s first veto — an $800,000 study of an Interstate 10 service road — later was dropped by Lacombe, who had first introduced it.

The council will take up the budgets once again at its Sept. 8 meeting.

With no new budget in place, the city has been operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget, as required by law. No services have been cut, but City Clerk Clay Stafford has said city operations could become a concern if new budgets are not in place by some time in October.

“You get a council that’s dysfunctional and it causes chaos and havoc throughout the city,” Police Chief Jackson said before signing the recall petitions.

The bloc of three councilman has sought to reduce funding to the Police Department by approximately $100,000 this year, for a budget of approximately $327,000.

Former police chief Bill Landry, who’s acted as a spokesman for SaveGonzales, said he thinks the public signing Wednesday by the four city officials shows they “have the best interest of the city at heart. It’s not about politics. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reason.”

In the last push to get additional signatures beyond the required 2,145 signatures, which is one-third of the registered voters in the city, volunteer Neal Bourque said, “We’re trying now to get people to sign and be a part of history.”

Resident Gordon Kernan said he had gotten two more signatures for the petitions on his way to the SaveGonzales meeting, from people he knew wanted to sign.

“I pulled up in their driveway, I saw them working in their yard,” Kernan said.

Lacombe could not be reached for comment. Vessel declined to comment.

SaveGonzales has said that it will submit the recall petitions to the Ascension Parish registrar of voters later this month, in time for the issue to be placed on the Dec. 6 ballot.

The parish registrar has 15 working days to certify the signatures before forwarding the petitions to the Governor’s Office, where an election proclamation would be made, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.