St. Landry delays action on hospital site

The St.Landry Parish Council voted Wednesday night to delay action on proposed ordinance that would abolish the governing board of a former Arnaudville hospital so the facility can be converted into a French cultural immersion center.

Council member Timothy LeJeune said he wanted to delay action make certain that it is legal for parish government to dissolve the governing board of the 33-bed hospital, which ceased operation about four years ago.

Voters in St. Landry and St. Martin established the board during the 1960s by both parishes to oversee the operation and funding for St. Luke’s Hospital.

George Marks, who spoke at a public hearing before the council discussed the ordinance matter, said $1.5 million remains in the taxing district that once funded the hospital.

The St. Landry Council had voted Nov. 25 to introduce the ordinance terminating the hospital board.

Parish attorney Andrea West told the council Wednesday night that she and several other St. Landry council members attended a St. Martin Parish Council meeting on Tuesday and left the meeting with some doubts about the legality of ending the board’s operation.

West said she has several concerns and that it would be advisable to to take the time to make sure the matter is handled correctly.

Parish President Bill Fontenot said he favors doing away the hospital board, but realizes the council was not in favor of gone forward with a vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The votes (Wednesday night) are not there, so I would like to table it,” Fontenot said.

LeJeune said he prefers having a joint meeting with the parish councils from St. Landry and St. Martin and the hospital board.

Operlousas attorney Peter Caviness, who represented Fontenot at the meeting, said he sees no legal impediment to dissolving the hospital board.

“I have researched this issue thoroughly and I can tell you the law allows (the council) to abolish the hospital boards as well as other boards,” Caviness said. “There is nothing in state law that prevents you from doing so. There is also nothing that I have found that says the hospital board should have any input.”

Caviness said the board cannot be legally dissolved until both the St. Landry and St. Martin parish councils approve similar ordinances.

Council member Hurlin Dupre said the council should be cautious and not act hastily.

“We want it to be legal,” Dupre said.

The public hearing, which lasted 30 minutes, included comments from residents in the Arnaudville area and other areas touting the economic and cultural possibilities of transforming the hospital into a cultural center.

All seven speakers at the public hearing said they favor transforming the facility into a center for French cultural projects.

Aimee Smallwood, a representative from the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation said the French center would be financed by an endowment if it is established, which can be used to generate further funding to operate the facility.

The project would have an advisory board to oversee the daily operation of former hospital, which according to a project plan presented by Smallwood, would be called the Arnaudville Cultural Incubator and French Immersion Campus.

Voting to delay the ordinance were Jerry Red, Fekisa Miller-Mathews, Leon Robinson, Huet Dupre, Jimmie Edwards, Alvin Stelly, Pam Gautreau, LeJeune and Gary Courville.

Hurlin Dupre voted against the delay.

Ronald Buschel and Dexter Brown did not attend the meeting.