Sorrento voters could face interesting Nov. 4 ballot

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sorento Town Hall Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sorento Town Hall

Decision on police chief post slated

Sorrento voters could be faced with an interesting decision Nov. 4 — elect a new police chief or do away with the position altogether, allowing the town to hire another agency to do the job.

State Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, said he plans to introduce legislation this year at the request of town officials to allow Sorrento voters to abolish their elected chief of police and Police Department in the current term of ousted former Chief Earl Theriot Jr.

Because of timing problems with election deadlines and the speed of the legislative process, Amedee said the Town Council will not be able to call the referendum election until Nov. 4 if his legislation is passed this spring.

Nov. 4 is also the same date the Town Council already has set for a mandated special election to fill the remaining three years on Theriot’s term.

Amedee’s proposed legislation would allow Sorrento voters the chance to do away with the chief’s position and Police Department without delay on Nov. 4.

Amedee said the two elections should make for an interesting race for chief.

“They’ll be running and campaigning against doing away with it at the same time,” he said.

In the meantime, Sorrento residents likely will have to rely on Gov. Bobby Jindal to select an interim police chief.

Mayor Mike Lambert said no special meeting was planned by a Thursday deadline to name an interim.

“No councilman asked me to make a meeting request,” Lambert said. “Apparently, we’re heading to the governor’s making an appointment. That appears to be what’s going on.”

Lambert said the town had until midnight Wednesday to call for a Thursday meeting, which is 20 days from Theriot’s retirement on Feb. 7,

A plea agreement with federal prosecutors in Baton Rouge called for Theriot to step down before he entered his plea. He pleaded guilty Feb. 10 to lying to an FBI agent about “inappropriate sexual contact” with a drunk woman Theriot had picked up after a 911 call Nov. 1. The allegations surfaced in a civil lawsuit in mid-January.

The plea came amid a running crisis within the town when Theriot’s department was left without liability insurance starting on Nov. 19.

Town officials had discussed abolishing the department and letting the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office take over, but they had no authority to do it on their own.

The only election before Nov. 4 will be held May 3 and the deadline to put propositions on that ballot is March 18. The legislative session begins March 10.

If voters in Sorrento did elect a chief but also voted to do away with the chief’s position on Nov. 4, the job would not go away until the term ends on June 30, 2017, according to John Gallagher, Louisiana Municipal Association assistant director for governmental affairs.

LMA Executive Director Ronnie Harris said if that newly elected chief later resigned and the referendum were adopted, then the chief’s position and department would go away immediately.

Gallagher and Harris said the Legislature has the power to abolish the office without an election while the post is vacant. But, Amedee said he wants to give the people of Sorrento a say on the future of the department.

“That’s just not my plan, and they hadn’t asked me to do that,” Amedee said of town officials.

The governor has no time limit to make the interim police chief selection, said Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Lambert said several people that town officials felt had the ability to do the interim job declined to take it.

“They didn’t want to have no part of it,” he said.

Sorrento resident Ronnie O’Quin submitted his name as a candidate, but the council tabled action Feb. 18 .

Michael Reed, Jindal’s spokesman, said Wednesday that the Governor’s Office will work with “local officials on the vacant chief of police position if we receive notice from the secretary of state regarding a vacancy.”

“The Sorrento Town Council still has the opportunity to appoint someone by tomorrow evening,” Reed added.