LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish Council and Parish President Layton Ricks continued to battle over the parish’s road overlay program Thursday without resolving their differences over their respective lines of authority.
Parish officials have been sparring for more than a month over whether Ricks had the authority to hire an engineer for the project without council approval.
Ricks signed a contract with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., an engineering firm with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to examine the roads for the overlay project. Several council members have sought to put out a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for the project instead.
Councilman Ricky Goff insisted Thursday the BKI contract is “just a gentleman’s agreement” because the parish’s home rule charter requires council approval for any unbudgeted projects and services.
The council removed funds for the road overlay work, including professional services such as engineering, from the parish’s 2013 budget prior to its adoption.
Goff said the funds were removed because the administration did not provide specific information as to how the money would be used.
The deletion of those funds was one of several points of contention between the council and president over the parish’s 2013 budget. Ricks issued 36 line-item vetoes for the various reductions in December 2012, but the council overrode the vetoes in January.
“The fact is, we haven’t funded that contract,” Councilman Chance Parent said Thursday.
The contract also runs afoul of the council’s procedural manual for capital improvement projects, adopted earlier this year, Parent said.
“Whether you want to follow it or not, it’s still a law until a court says otherwise,” Parent said.
Ricks said he believes the manual is invalid because it conflicts with the parish’s home rule charter. But he said he met with BKI’s Jim Delaune and tried to get the contract “as close to that ordinance as possible, out of respect to the council.”
“I feel like I have a valid contract,” Ricks said. “I don’t want to delay the road program. I don’t want to fight about it. I can’t stop you from getting RFQs, but I’m ready to go.”
Parish legal adviser Christopher Moody said the parish could face a lawsuit if the council chooses another engineering firm through the RFQ process.
“It’s certainly possible. You’re going down one track, and the administration is going down another,” Moody told the council. “At some point, you’re going to have to pick a track.”
Councilman Delos Blackwell said the council and president should be able to come to a common-sense agreement.
On his motion, the council tabled the matter until its next meeting.