OPELOUSAS — St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot say he will not remove Jessie Bellard as a parish government employee despite a 6-4 vote of the Parish Council to do so during a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Administrative and Finance Committee Chairwoman Pam Gautreau, who voted for Bellard’s dismissal, said that she’s aware the council has no authority to fire Bellard — the parish’s chief administrative officer — according to St. Landry Parish government’s Home Rule Charter.
“The vote was done to make a point to Fontenot and Bellard that Bellard’s appointment does not have the support of the majority of this council,” Gautreau said.
Bellard, who served parish government for eight years when his uncle, Don Menard was parish president, did not attend the meeting.
Fontenot, who is serving a first term as parish president, told the council earlier this year that he wanted to appoint Bellard as finance director, but the council never approved the request.
The council voted at its April 18 meeting to prohibit an interim finance director, a position Bellard has held under Fontenot, from signing checks on behalf of parish government. The council took the action in the wake of a state attorney general’s opinion.
Voting for Bellard’s removal as the parish’s chief administrative officer on Wednesday were council members Gautreau, Ronald Buschel, Huet Dupre, Tim LeJeune, Gary Courville and Hurlin Dupre.
Alvin Stelly, Dexter Brown, Jimmie Edwards and Leon Robinson voted against the removal.
Jerry Red Jr. and Fekisha Miller-Matthews were absent.
Following the vote, Fontenot said he would disregard the council’s decision.
“Bellard will be here (Thursday) working for the parish,” Fontenot said.
He said the council’s vote was meaningless because it did not comply with the parish Home Rule Charter. He said Bellard is a good employee.
“I’m glad to have him on board, and he is someone I plan to keep,” Fontenot said.
Council Chairman Wayne Ardoin said Bellard is listed as a part-time employee who earns $28.43 an hour.
Bellard also works as a full-time Opelousas municipal fireman while serving as parish CAO, Ardoin said.
Ardoin said Bellard, in 2011 while he was working as an administrative assistant under Menard, got paid for 80 hours work every two weeks as a parish government employee and sometimes earned overtime while working as a fireman.
Fontenot said Bellard is a parish government employee who is “well respected by the business community and its leaders,” whose performance has never been questioned in any audit reports.
Gautreau said she wants to know if the council ever approved Bellard’s hiring as a parish worker, even when he was employed by Menard’s administration.
Buschel said Bellard’s employment should be discussed only when the council has proper documentation.
“I want to see minutes that says Mr. Bellard was ever hired. If we ain’t got the minutes, then we ain’t got nothing to go on. That’s just the way it is,” Buschel said.
Ardoin told Fontenot that Bellard couldn’t be considered as finance director after the council learned of a $57,000 airplane hanger being built as a capital outlay project at the St. Landry Parish Airport without the council’s authorization.
At the April 18 meeting, the council learned that Bellard and Fontenot had knowledge of the project.
Gautreau said in an interview that the hanger project was presented to the council as a grounds maintenance item. “It was like we were doing some lawn work out at the airport,” she said.
WASHINGTON APPOINTED FINANCE DIRECTOR: The council voted unanimously to appoint Summer Washington as finance director at a rate of $16 per hour.
Fontenot recommended Washington’s appointment. Fontenot said Washington, who has worked for parish government for several years, will be under his direct supervision. Fontenot also said that Bellard will continue to sign parish checks if Fontenot decides to let him.