Proposed Watson pit sparks heated exchange between Ricks, Norred

— A discussion of a land use plan that could help stop gravel pits like one planned in Watson from cropping up in residents’ backyards quickly turned ugly Thursday night, when Parish President Layton Ricks and Councilman Jim Norred got into a heated argument over who dropped the ball in implementing the parish’s master plan.

Norred said he learned at 3:15 p.m. Thursday that the parish already had a planning manager, a position he thought was vacant or nonexistent, and asked Ricks what the manager had been doing so far if not working to implement the master plan the council adopted more than a year ago.

Ricks said the planning manager, John Dardis, had been working on grant issues related to the planning effort that needed to be straightened out first.

Norred blamed Ricks for not hiring someone else months ago to work on the master plan, but Ricks said there was no reason to spend the extra money when someone already on the payroll was capable and could move on it after the funding was secured.

Norred walked to the podium where Ricks stood and handed the parish president a copy of a petition, signed by more than 700 Watson residents, opposing Southern Aggregates’ plan to locate a 238-acre mining operation within 200 feet of the Oak Hills Subdivision.

“You’re the voice of the people,” Norred told Ricks. “They want to be heard. ... Why aren’t you out there stopping this, instead of just kind of being quiet and taking care of certain individuals?”

Council Chairman Ricky Goff gaveled for the first of many times during the argument, saying he would allow Ricks to respond but that the agenda item was to introduce a land use ordinance.

Ricks said Norred was “obviously trying to turn this thing into a political deal where I’m not trying to help these people, and that’s not the case.

“The fact of the matter is, he sat on his ass up here for 2 ½ years when he could’ve passed an ordinance to regulate it,” Ricks said, prompting Goff to ask for everyone to remain respectful.

Ricks said Norred only saw the issue as a problem when it came to his backyard, referring to Norred’s residence in Oak Hills next to the proposed pit.

“You didn’t care about the rest of the people,” Ricks said to Norred.

Goff again tried to regain control of the meeting, gaveling Ricks down and saying repeatedly, “We’re done, we’re done, we’re done.”

But Ricks would not be quieted, slamming a fistful of papers on the podium and yelling, “I want to say I want to help. I don’t want it out there that I’m not trying to help these people.”

Goff again gaveled Ricks down: “We understand that, sir. And I allowed you to talk back to him, have your say that you want to help these people, but there is absolutely no call for that. None, whatsoever.”

Goff also gaveled down fellow Councilman Marshall Harris, who repeatedly tried to ask a question about Dardis. Goff said it was his job to maintain control of the meeting and proceeded to the next item on the agenda, a three-way stop in Harris’ district.

Later in the meeting, Ricks apologized to Norred, saying his comments were “a little over the top” and that he typically doesn’t “lose it like that.”

Norred’s land use ordinance was deferred to give parish legal adviser Chris Moody time to do some research on the issue. Norred said Moody was concerned that the ordinance Norred drafted might open the parish up to a possible lawsuit.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.