Livingston council slashes budget in dispute with Ricks

The Livingston Parish Council on Thursday refused for the second year in a row to fund the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program, the latest chapter in its ongoing dispute with Parish President Layton Ricks over the hiring of an engineering firm for the work.

The council also deleted funding for legal fees from the parish’s 2014 budget in an attempt to curb costs that have risen dramatically over the past two years.

Ricks declined to comment Thursday night when asked whether he will again issue line-item vetoes for the funding reductions, saying he wanted to think about it over the weekend.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions that this council is holding up the road fund, but that’s not the case,” Finance Committee Chairman Chance Parent said.

Parent said Ricks violated the parish’s Home Rule Charter when he signed a contract with an engineering firm in July for road work the council had not budgeted.

Unbudgeted contracts are supposed to come to the council for approval, Parent said.

“Until we follow the law, we’re not going to have a road program,” Parent said.

The council instead published a request for qualifications for the work. The RFQ elicited only one response, but the council voted unanimously Thursday to request that Ricks republish the request to give more firms an opportunity to apply.

If Ricks does not publish the RFQ within a week, the council’s staff will do so.

Councilwoman Sonya Collins said she voted in favor of republishing the RFQ in the hopes that the council and Ricks could work out their differences in the process.

However, she said she was unwilling to go along with the council majority in passing a 2014 budget that deleted funding for the overlay program.

She and Councilwoman Joan Landry voted against adopting the slashed budget; the remaining seven council members voted for it.

Ricks said after the meeting he was disappointed the council “once again chose not to do what I thought was the right thing, which is to approve the funds and get the road work started.”

He added, “That’s a dedicated tax for road overlay work, and in my opinion, it’s wrong for them to zero that out.”

The council’s deletion of funds for legal fees is troubling as well, he said.

“The parish has to have legal representation, and the charter provides the district attorney as our representation,” Ricks said.

In 2012, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux appointed a private lawyer from Hammond, Christopher Moody, to serve as parish legal adviser.

Moody’s hourly fees, coupled with some two dozen lawsuits and an equal number of legal issues, have cost the parish about $450,000 over the past two years.

The parish’s former legal adviser, also appointed by Perrilloux, was paid a salary of about $42,000 for roughly the same work.

Ricks said he thinks the deleted funding is “a slap at Scott Perrilloux and in the hopes that Chris will back off” from representing the parish.

Ricks said he was equally disappointed in the council’s decision Thursday to hire an outside lawyer to file a lawsuit seeking to force him to pay the legal bills of two council members sued personally for comments they made in a WBRZ-TV news story in March.

The council voted 6-1 to hire Hammond lawyer Brett Duncan, if he is willing to do so, to file the mandamus action. Collins voted against. The two council members being sued, Cindy Wale and Marshall Harris, abstained.

Duncan, reached by cellphone after the council vote, declined to comment on the matter until he had a chance to speak with the council.