Sorrento officials may ask Jindal to let voters decide on police chief

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

The Town Council put off Tuesday whether or not to ask Gov. Bobby Jindal to refrain from appointing an interim police chief and instead leave the matter to the voters Nov. 4.

That’s when there will be a special election to fill the remaining three years of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr.’s term.

“I think an interim at this point, an interim chief of police, would be ineffective because he will not be able to implement any long-term policies or anything,” said Mayor Mike Lambert, who proposed the resolution. “I just feel that we just ask the governor to wait and let the people decide on Nov. 4 who will be the next chief of police.”

But Councilman Randy Anny asked the Town Council to defer discussion on the proposed resolution until the May 20 council meeting, when all council members could be present and after officials gauge if residents support the matter.

Council members Don Schexnaydre and Wanda Bourgeois did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Anny said he also wants to wait and see if Risk Management Inc., the Police Department’s former liability insurance provider, will speak with Lambert about insuring the town’s one police officer, Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith, and his vehicle.

Council members Marvin Martin, Patti Poche and Anny agreed in a 3-0 vote Tuesday to delay further discussion on the appointment issue until May 20.

The town has been without a police chief since February, when Theriot resigned in the wake of federal charges levied against him. That same month, Theriot pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent about inappropriate sexual contact with an intoxicated woman the chief had picked up after a 911 call Nov. 1.

Lambert also said not having a police chief is saving Sorrento money because the town does not have to pay a salary for the position.

The town, meanwhile, has contracted with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office for protection on nights and weekends for a fee of $36 per hour. Smith patrols during weekdays.

Jindal has had since Feb. 27 to appoint an interim police chief but has not done so yet.

The Governor’s Office, once reticent to release much information about who state officials are considering to fill Theriot’s term, broke its silence Tuesday.

“We defer to the will of the local community on this issue,” said Shannon Bates, a spokesman with the Governor’s Office.

Sorrento residents have another choice on the Nov. 4 ballot, as well: A decision to abolish the town’s Police Department and eliminate the police chief’s position.

On April 16, the Louisiana Senate approved legislation by Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, allowing the Town Council upon approval by the mayor to adopt an ordinance calling for an election to abolish the position of police chief.

If voters approve, the office would be abolished at the end of Theriot’s term in 2017 or at a time when a vacancy occurs in the office, whichever occurs first. If it is filled by a temporarily appointed officer, the office would be abolished as per the proposed ordinance.

At least one resident wants the police force back.

Paula Ezell told the Town Council during a public comment period Tuesday: “We have people out there that do want to run for chief of police and the people of Sorrento do want this police station back.”