Metro Councilman Ryan Heck called for the resignations of three members of the Historic Preservation Commission whom he called “clowns” in an email exchange.
Heck, in the email, accused the commissioners of using their office to provide favors to friends and of violating the state’s Open Meetings Laws.
The heated email exchange between Heck and members of the commission originated Tuesday with an email Carolyn Bennett, the commission’s president, sent out that included a copy of the agenda for a commission meeting held Wednesday morning.
The email quickly degenerated into an exchange of back-and-forth comments between Commissioner Bill Huey and Heck, with both threatening to send the email chain to the media.
In an email sent at 12:22 a.m. from Heck to Huey — with the media also included — Heck called for the resignations of Huey, Bennett and John Sykes.
Heck’s feud with the commission began a few weeks ago after the council member proposed imposing a moratorium on the board’s ability to issue permits to property owners in locally designated historic districts.
Property owners in those districts — Spanish Town and Drehr Place in the Garden District — must seek the commission’s approval before making certain aesthetic changes to their property, including tree removal, renovations and fence installation, that could conflict with the historic look of the area.
Heck has questioned the criteria board members use to base their decisions.
In his email, Heck admits there’s nothing wrong in principle with the commission issuing the permits but rather blames the board members for pursuing personal agendas.
“If you three clowns weren’t on the HPC, granting favors to friends and punishing those you don’t like, there would be no issue,” Heck wrote.
“But the fact of the matter is YOU are the problem. And you’re too blind to see it.”
Heck also told Huey he doesn’t care about public perception, because he doesn’t care “about being a politician.”
“I ran for this office because I was sick and tired of people like you getting in the way of reasonable people’s desire to just do business and be left alone by the government as much as possible,” Heck wrote.
“You are correct; for the next 38 months, I have this bully pulpit, and I intend to use it.”
Reached for comment, Huey disputed Heck’s claim he was “granting favors to friends.”
“I have never met any of the people who applied for (the permits) and I certainly saw no ‘friends’ among those whose cases we heard,” Huey said.
In an earlier email that Heck sent to Bennett on Wednesday, he encouraged her and the commission to support his ordinance placing a moratorium on their permitting power.
“I hope you believe me what I say I have MORE than enough support on the council on this issue, despite your best lobbying efforts to the contrary,” Heck wrote. “It won’t be close.”
In a later email to the commission and Metro Council, Heck said he is going to place items on the council agenda to remove the board members based on reports of at least two instances in which a quorum of the commission met without providing proper public notice.
He cited a December 2012 committee meeting and a March 19 site visit to Longwood Plantation, which a quorum of members attended without public notice.
Bennett responded that notice was posted for the December meeting.
She stopped short of calling the site visit a commission meeting, and said they have never been warned about potential infractions by the Parish Attorney’s Office.
Huey defended the site visit further, making the comparison questioning, “If enough members of the LSU Board of Supervisors are invited to tour a facility such as a Business Incubator, then a public notice should be posted and noticed? I doubt very much that the LSU Board or anyone else has ever done that.”
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe weighed in that the Metro Council recently toured the sheriff’s new facility, and issued a public notice about that visit.
Councilman John Delgado requested an opinion from the Parish Attorney’s Office Thursday afternoon on the issue.
Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson responded in an email that the March 19 site visit did require compliance with Open Meetings Laws, because it was a deliberate meeting of the commissioners, not a chance social encounter.
Bennett issued a statement Thursday saying Heck has not provided concrete examples of the favoritism he accuses them of showing to friends while behaving in a punitive manner toward others.
“He throws out red herrings, false compliments, and then ad hominem insults,” she said.
“Mr. Heck accuses us of favoritism. Give us concrete examples. Rather than HPC having vendettas, he seems to have a vendetta or is acting on behalf of someone who does.”
She said Heck fails to note the many examples of permits the commission approves, including one Wednesday for a Spanish Town apartment building that added HVAC units outside the building.
She said Heck has prejudged the situation, and “refuses to learn what the HPC does, and prefers to rule by bullying tactics.”
Asked if Heck felt the situation had become personal, he admitted that it had and said he intends to take a step back.
“I do recognize that it is headed in that direction and I want to avoid that,” he said. “Hopefully my council colleagues will continue to carry the banner.”
H e said he still believes the violation of Open Meeting Laws merits dismissal of the commissioners, noting that the Metro Council earlier this year removed some members of a rural utility district board for violating open meetings laws.