Pointe Coupee DA could weigh fee issue
NEW ROADS — A controversy that erupted over a building permit issued to the developer of an $8 million nursing home project appears to now be headed for the Pointe Coupee Parish District Attorney’s Office
Police Juror Justin Cox said Wednesday that he and some other jurors plan to ask the DA’s Office to investigate possible malfeasance by a fellow juror and the parish administrator in how the permit was handled.
Cox said he believes Juror Kyle Olinde and Parish Administrator Jim Bello violated parish law when they instructed employees to issue a building permit to Gerard LaCour without initially requiring LaCour to pay for the permit.
Jury President Melanie Bueche defended Olinde and Bello, claiming Cox was twisting the truth about what happened to damage Bello’s credibility.
“They know they don’t have the authority to do that,” Cox said Wednesday. “No one knew this man walked out with a permit without paying a dime and started construction. Our ordinance clearly says in order to get a permit, you must pay for it.”
Cox’s comments came one day after the Police Jury’s contentious meeting Tuesday night at which Cox accused Olinde of being a liar and told Bueche she has ruined the parish through her “backwoods politics.”
The flare-ups among the Police Jury were sparked by the jury’s adoption of an amended version of the parish’s building permit fee ordinance.
Cox, one of three jurors who voted against the amendment’s adoption, said Wednesday a majority of the Police Jury supported the measure only to cover up shady dealings surrounding the issuance of LaCour’s permit. Cox said it happened only because the developer is a friend of Olinde.
An independent auditor at Tuesday night’s meeting also chided the parish for issuing the permit to LaCour in December 2013 without requiring him to first pay a fee.
“The jury’s Code of Ordinances clearly states that prior to the issuance of a building permit … a fee shall be paid,” auditor Michael Schexnayder said Tuesday night. “I don’t think that has happened before here — not to my knowledge.”
Cox and several jurors were also perturbed that when LaCour did eventually pay for the permit three months later, he was allowed to pay only $17,549 to have parish inspectors survey his project. In fact, under the ordinance prior to Tuesday’s amendment, LaCour would have owed the parish $39,415 for that service.
The contractor on LaCour’s project said Wednesday that LaCour was out of town on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
LaCour said previously he asked to pay the lower amount because officials failed to notify him that permit rates had increased when the jury amended the fee ordinance in May 2013. LaCour also has said paying the full amount would have overextended his project’s budget.
Olinde said during a public meeting in June that he gave Bello and permitting officials the go-ahead to allow LaCour to pay the lower amount.
Cox pointed to an email between jury attorney John Wayne Jewell and Bello as what he calls proof parish officials have been abusing their powers.
In the Feb. 18 email, Jewell wrote that he had spoken with LaCour after a police jury meeting in February at which LaCour asked to pay the lower amount. He said he informed the developer it would be difficult to find a legal solution to his problem.
“I cannot come up with a solution in his favor which would not violate the equal protection clause of the constitution nor Article VII, Section 14 of the constitution which prohibits donating public funds to the private sector,” Jewell wrote in his email to Bello.
After Jewell recused himself from the matter in April, citing a conflict of interest because he worked for the LaCour family, the Police Jury hired attorney Dannie Garrett to handle the issue, culminating in the adoption of the amended ordinance Tuesday night.
“This whole ordinance amendment was strictly done to right the wrong that was done,” Cox said. “You can lawyer anything up and try to retroactively pass it. It doesn’t take away the fact that everything was done under the table from the beginning.”
However, Bueche denies Cox’s claims of malfeasance, saying the permit that LaCour was issued in December 2013 was just documented proof to his financiers of how much the permit would cost to obtain.
“That building permit is what the Police Jury does to assist people that are borrowing money so they can have proof of the amount the building permit is going to cost,” she said.
Bueche also said it was Jewell and not Olinde who gave the parish’s building inspector the OK to accept LaCour’s lower payment for the permit when he finally paid in March.
She said the OK was given contingent upon the Police Jury being able to amend the fee ordinance.
“We are getting a bum rap for something that’s not like he made it out to be,” Bueche said.
Bello said he believes Cox is using the issue because of a lawsuit Bello filed against Juror Albert Dukes alleging Dukes was improperly interfering with his day-to-day duties as parish administrator.
“Cox is just mad he’s not getting his way,” Bello said Wednesday. “He doesn’t have the majority support on the jury, so the only thing he can do is attack.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.