Friction between Livingston council members results in closed-door shouting

The Livingston Parish Council is considering a ban on cellphones during executive session after some council members expressed concerns about a colleague’s texting during legal strategy discussions.

A resolution to exclude all communication devices from executive session was tabled Thursday, but the matter led to a heated exchange between council members Chance Parent and Sonya Collins during the meeting and a shouting match behind closed doors afterward.

Parent said Friday that the resolution stems from Collins’ texting during the council’s most recent legal strategy session.

He said Collins “was constantly texting the entire time, which is rude not only to the other council members but also to the attorney who was trying to give us an update.”

Collins did not return calls and text messages seeking comment Friday.

Parent said he did not know whether the texting was about the parish’s legal strategy.

“It’s very possible,” he said. “Every time we have an executive session, it seems like everything we talk about ends up out in public. We hear what we talked about from other people.”

Parent expressed concern about “relationships between certain council members and engineering firms” suing the parish, but declined to elaborate.

“We can’t really prove where it’s coming from, but it seems like a play-by-play is going on,” he said. “We felt like banning cellphones, period, would stop that.”

The topic sparked a heated exchange between Parent and Collins on Thursday, when Parent commented on Collins’ texting.

Collins told Parent they could discuss the matter in the council office kitchen if he wanted to go there.

Acting Council Chairman Jim Norred gaveled the pair quiet, calling them “children.”

After the meeting, Collins told Parent to go with her to the kitchen. He said he was not one of her students, and she replied that he acted like one and again ordered him to the kitchen.

The two councilmen went into the council’s restricted office area and closed the door. Their raised voices could be heard from the adjacent council chambers.

Thursday’s explosive argument was not the first between Parent and Collins. The two also sparred during an Aug. 22 meeting when Collins accused Parent of improperly seeking input from an engineer in drafting a proposed request for qualifications for engineering work on the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program.

Parish President Layton Ricks already has hired Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc., an engineering firm with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to examine the roads for the project, but several council members insist that contract is not valid because Ricks did not seek council approval for the unbudgeted expense.

The council members want to put out a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for the project instead.

Collins said in August that it was a conflict of interest for Parent to allow an engineer to help write the RFQ template and gave a speech about council members not trusting each other.

Thursday night, after several minutes of yelling, Collins returned to the council chambers, where members of the Chinquapin Campsites Homeowners Association remained gathered.

The Maurepas camp owners have attended several council meetings, hoping to hear that the parish’s road program has been funded and is moving forward.

After another rancorous meeting, however, the council again tabled the RFQ issue, as well as priority road list amendments.