Livingston council defies Ricks on engineering contract

— After two months of sparring with Parish President Layton Ricks, the Livingston Parish Council voted Thursday night to publish a request for qualifications for engineering work on the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program.

The move sets up a potential legal battle if the council selects a different firm than the one Ricks already has contracted for the job.

The Parish Council was set to vote Aug. 22 on publishing an RFQ for the work when Ricks informed the council he had already hired a firm.

Ricks signed a contract July 24 with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., an engineering firm with offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, to examine roads for the project.

The firm cannot move forward with the work until the council allocates money in the parish budget for it.

The council removed funds for the road overlay work, including professional services such as engineering, from the parish’s 2013 budget prior to its adoption. Ricks fought the funding reductions with line-item vetoes in December, but the council overrode the vetoes in January.

Several council members now say the Burk-Kleinpeter contract is nothing more than “a gentlemen’s agreement” because the parish’s Home Rule Charter requires council approval for all unbudgeted expenses.

Ricks has described the council’s position as a “chicken and the egg argument.”

The parish already has collected tax dollars dedicated to parish road projects, regardless of whether thee funds have been incorporated into the official budget, he said.

Council members also had expressed concerns the Burk-Kleinpeter contract did not comply with a parish manual for capital improvement projects.

Ricks said he worked with Burk-Kleinpeter Vice President Jim Delaune to amend the contract to meet most, if not all, the requirements of the manual despite Ricks’ belief that it runs afoul of the parish charter.

Councilman Ricky Goff said Thursday he was getting fed up with the ongoing feud.

“If you had brought it to the council for approval up-front, we could’ve went on to digest it and see if we could approve it, but instead you stood there at that podium and told us” about the contract, Goff said.

Ricks said the bottom line is that choosing an engineer is his job, not the council’s.

“That’s not your job, not your role, no matter how many times you beat your chest and pound on the podium up there,” Ricks told the council.

Councilwoman Sonya Collins asked Ricks if he would accept whichever engineering firm won the council’s selection after the RFQ process. Ricks said no.

Councilman Delos Blackwell repeatedly urged the council and parish president to work together.

“We cannot continue to spend money on lawyer fees. We have got to come to some kind of agreement on this,” Blackwell said.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of publishing the RFQ. Collins was joined by Councilwoman Joan Landry in voting no.