Councilman calls for compromise on Livingston budget

The battle over control of Livingston Parish’s budget flared again Thursday night, when members of the Parish Council’s Finance Committee complained about Parish President Layton Ricks’ absence from their meeting only an hour after he had attended a walk-through of the new courthouse being built next door.

The Finance Committee was set to discuss whether the state Attorney General’s Office had issued an opinion as to which budget should govern parish spending for 2014 — the one Ricks proposed or the one the council adopted.

The two branches have been at odds ever since Ricks vetoed the council’s adopted budget in its entirety and said he would follow his own proposed budget instead.

The council overrode Ricks’ veto, but he has refused to recognize that override as legitimate.

Ricks has sought an attorney general’s opinion to settle the dispute, but said Wednesday that he had not yet received a written response.

Councilman Marshall Harris said Thursday it is difficult to have a monthly finance meeting without Ricks or his finance director present.

The parish’s Home Rule Charter says, “The president or designee shall attend all meetings of the council and keep the council fully advised as to the financial condition and future needs of the parish government.”

Harris said, “He went through the walk-through (of the new parish courthouse construction), you know. He needs to have somebody here.”

Councilman Ricky Goff said Ricks had notified him in advance that he may not be able to make the meeting and that Finance Director Jennifer Meyers would be unable to attend.

“Something about the audit,” Goff said of Meyers’ reasons for not attending.

Goff agreed the council, “at a minimum,” should receive monthly check registers and financial statements, but said the administration has not been providing that information.

He said he would take that issue up with Ricks in a meeting next week.

Ricks arrived at the committee meeting shortly after the five-minute discussion ended, but did not ask to speak and was not recognized by the committee.

As for the attorney general’s opinion, Goff said the Attorney General’s Office is encouraging parish officials to “work this out amongst ourselves, instead of them having to give an opinion, because apparently the opinion is pretty tough.”

Goff said he would sit down with Ricks again next week to see if a compromise could be reached.