Move stirs controversy about maneuver
OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to dissolve the five-member board appointed to oversee operations of a former rural hospital in Arnaudville mentioned as a possible site for a French language immersion center.
Board members were chosen by both the St. Martin and St. Landry parish councils to oversee St. Luke’s Hospital, which has been closed for the past several years.
Parish President Bill Fontenot told the council that St. Landry’s vote to dissolve the board “was not binding,” since St. Martin Parish must also approve a similar ordinance.
At a meeting in November, Fontenot said a total of about $1.3 million in property tax revenue was paid in both parishes and used to operate the hospital.
Prior to Tuesday night’s vote, council member Pam Gautreau objected to giving consideration to the item.
Gautreau said the council did not discuss the dissolution of the five-member hospital board at public hearing during a called meeting of the council.
She added that no vote could be taken on the issue since the item was not on the meeting agenda.
In his monthly message to the council Tuesday night, Fontenot urged the council to take action.
Fontenot said voting on the hospital board’s dissolution was proper, since council members had a copy of the ordinance in their meeting packets.
Fontenot said public meetings on dissolving the board and converting the former hospital into an immersion center had been discussed in several towns, including Arnaudville.
Gautreau said it wasn’t proper to consider those meetings as official, since they were not called meetings of the Parish Council.
LSU French instructor Amanda Lafleur, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, told the council that the proposed French immersion program would allow students to experience everyday living in French.
Lafleur called Arnaudville “a Shangri-La of French immersion.” since French students at LSU and other universities will interact with a community in which French is readily spoken.
Lafleur and some businesses have touted the proposed center as way to attract “Francotourists.”
Council member Ronald Buschel attempted to remove an agenda item that would have allowed the hospital board members to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, but council Chairman Leon Robinson allowed hospital board member Kenneth Quebedeaux to speak anyway.
Quebedeaux said he and the other board members are taking “no stance for or against” using St. Luke’s as an immersion center.
He told the council that the board has been seeking a health-care-related business as an occupant for the facility.
Quebedeaux said that in his opinion, the St. Martin Parish council is not in favor of dissolving the board.
“Now we are being told (by the St. Landry Council) that we have to dissolve ourselves,” Quebedeaux said.
Voting to dissolve the hospital board were Jimmy Red Jr., Fekisha Miller-Mathew, Huet Dupre, Hurlin Dupre, Dexter Brown, Timothy LeJeune and Gary Courville.
Abstaining were Buschel, Alvin Stelly, Wayne Ardoin and Jimmie Edwards.
Gautreau voted no.
Robinson, the council chairman, who usually votes to break a tie, did not vote.
Before the vote, Fontenot asked Stelly if he knew who had changed the locks recently on the doors at St. Luke’s.
Stelly said he didn’t know who did it.
Fontenot said he had attempted to show the building to some prospective businessmen, and found that the locks on the facility had been changed.
“Did you change the locks, Mr. Stelly?’ Fontenot asked.
Stelly denied knowledge of the issue.