OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council hired two attorneys Monday night to represent the council in a lawsuit filed last month against parish President Bill Fontenot and in a possible legal matter in connection with the parish’s Community Action Agency.
The council voted 11-1 to hire Lafayette attorney Mike Skinner at $250 an hour as its attorney in a court petition that petitions Fontenot to provide copies of records that the council requested. The records relate to an investigation of former parish President Don Menard’s use of an American Express credit card in 2011 and a $57,000 hangar project at the parish airport that an internal audit indicates was not approved by the council.
The council also voted 11-1 to hire Scherri Guidry, an Opelousas attorney, to represent the council in potential litigation by CAA director Donald Robinson.
Robinson was placed on paid administrative leave by Fontenot on Aug. 10.
The locks on the doors of Robinson’s CAA office doors were also changed by Fontenot, who has said he is questioning accounting practices the CAA used in funding a parishwide residential weatherization program, as well as revenues earmarked to assist homeowners in payment of utility bills.
During a court hearing earlier this month, 27th Judicial District Judge James Doherty ruled that council attorney Andrea West could not represent the council in the matters, since West represents both the council and the president in parish government issues.
Doherty also said West should be dismissed from representing the council since she may also be called to testify in the case.
On Monday night, Opelousas attorney John Weinstein said he could not represent the council, since he has a pending lawsuit that involves parish government.
The council’s finance committee chairwoman, Pam Gautreau, said she contacted Skinner on Monday afternoon and that he had agreed to represent the council, pending its approval.
Before approving Skinner, the council voted unanimously to set aside not more than $5,000 to pay Skinner for his legal advice.
Guidry told the council that she expects to charge not more than $150 per hour in the CAA matter.
Jerry Red Jr. was the only council member to vote against hiring both Skinner and Guidry.
The council also voted to alter the meeting agenda Monday so Chairman Wayne Ardoin could vote in two of Wednesday night’s five overrides of council-approved ordinances that Fontenot had vetoed.
Ardoin did not vote at Wednesday’s meeting, but he voted on Monday night to override Fontenot’s veto in two matters that Fontenot contended lacked sufficient council votes. The chairman has routinely chosen not to vote under St. Landry’s Home Rule Charter except in cases where a tie vote needs to be resolved.
On Wednesday night the council voted 9-3 to override Fontenot’s veto of ordinances prohibiting the distribution of Evangeline Racino proceeds for anything except road materials and construction, the use of video poker and slot machine revenues for employee salaries and inter-fund transfers of money without council approval.
The council voted 8-4 to override Fontenot’s veto of re-establishing the Historical Development Commission and requiring parish employees to comply with internal investigations. According to the Home Rule Charter, it takes a two-thirds vote of the council to override a president’s veto.
In a letter issued by Fontenot to Ardoin on Friday, Fontenot wrote that since only 12 council members had voted Wednesday, that the two 8-4 votes did not constitute a two-thirds majority.
“I will continue to consider my veto of these ordinances as having full force and effect,” Fontenot said in the letter.
West told the council Wednesday night and again on Monday that it is her opinion that the Charter indicates the two-thirds votes pertain to the 12 council members who voted on the issue.
Ardoin’s vote on Monday night made it 9-4 in favor of overriding
West said Fontenot’s letter had reopened the ordinance override issue and it was appropriate to allow Ardoin to vote on Monday night.