West Feliciana council, parish president clash over spending plan

The transition from a police jury to the West Feliciana Parish Council sparked a clash between two council members and the newly elected parish president Monday night over adoption of a six-month capital outlay budget.

Parish President Kevin Couhig presented a January 2014 to June 2014 capital outlay budget Monday night for adoption with money budgeted to each parish department.

Parish Council members Lea Williams and John Kean questioned Couhig about the lack of details in the capital outlay budget.

Kean and Williams, for example, wanted to know what the money budgeted for the recreation department would be spent on.

Couhig told Kean he didn’t understand his question and kept asking him what specifics he needed.

“I want it broken down by detail,” Kean asked repeatedly.

Couhig told Kean he doesn’t report to the Parish Council and it sounded like Kean and Williams had a fundamental misunderstanding of the new form of government under the charter voters approved in 2012.

Couhig told Kean and Williams that as parish president, he was elected as the parish chief executive while the Parish Council was the legislative body.

He told the council that before the switch, the council was both the legislative and executive branches.

Couhig said the council, per the charter, is allowed to approve the general parameters of the budget but is not to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the executive.

Council member Mel Percy said he understood Kean’s position but also said Couhig needs the freedom to act as the executive of the parish to work toward bringing development and growth to West Feliciana Parish. If he is forced to bring every detail of spending for approval of the council, it would “tie his hands.”

During Monday’s budget public hearing, a half-dozen or more members of the audience got up to defend Couhig and implore the council to work with him on the budget and moving the parish forward.

Couhig said he will always share information about what’s going on with the council and that what was happening Monday night was not personal.

“We are moving into a different form of government now. I want to work with the council and I want our government viewed as functional not dysfunctional. The council needs to trust me. I promised to be honorable and I will be,” Couhig said.

The council unanimously approved the operational budget but failed to pass the capital outlay budget 4-3 with Kean, Williams, Heather Howle and Rickey Lambert voting against and Percy, Otis Wilson and Melvin Young voting to approve it.

Also on Monday, Howle and Kean were elected chairman and vice chairman of the Parish Council, respectively.