Sorrento council OKs law to force mayor to pay bills

The Town Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing the town attorney to file paperwork in state district court that, if signed by a judge, would force Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr. to pay town bills within 20 days of being directed to do so by the Town Council.

The ordinance, as written, authorizes Town Attorneys Donovan Hudson or Karl Scott to go to court and ask a judge to force action by Longanecker when “the mayor fails to comply with the expressed direction of the council that funds be forwarded for payment of expenses and or liabilities incurred by the town.”

Longanecker and Councilmen Milton “Needlenose” Vicknair, John Wright, Randy Anny, Marvin Martin and Jason Adams attended Tuesday’s meeting.

The filing of such legal actions, known as writs, are “not unusual” among governmental municipalities and gives the legal system a chance to make sure the “letter of the law is followed,” Hudson said in an interview prior to the Town Council meeting.

But, Hudson acknowledged, after a contentious public hearing with heated arguments between Longanecker and councilmen over the mayor’s refusal to pay town attorney expenses, that having to file such an action“is a sign of dysfunction for the mayor and the council.”

Town officials have long complained that Longanecker won’t pay certain bills even though the Town Council has approved the payment.

An argument last month between Longanecker and Adams over unpaid legal invoices Longanecker refused to sign grew so heated that Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies were called. Longanecker filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office saying Adams had slammed his fist on the mayor’s desk and pointed at him in a threatening manner.

Citing town legal expenses and other services that have left the town’s budget in deficit, Longanecker said on Tuesday, “I am not cutting checks until we find money in the budget.”

Hudson said Scott’s legal practice has not been paid by the town since October.

Hudson also said the Town Council asked him to draft the ordinance seeking to force Longanecker to pay bills as directed by the Town Council because the mayor has refused to pay for other services, in addition to the legal services.

“When y’all approached me about this particular ordinance, it was not just about the attorney’s fees,” Hudson said. “It was about the fact that y’all were afraid about incurring liabilities in other areas and that those liabilities would multiply if you didn’t make sure the bills got paid when you mandated them.”

He continued, “So you weren’t just trying to do this because you were interested in getting into some sort of tussle with the mayor. You were interested in trying to be fiscally responsible and say that if the mayor refuses to act when we know that we have liabilities that we can pay that we want to make sure those get addressed.”

The Town Council unanimously approved the ordinance after Anny requested that Longanecker, councilmen, the council’s finance committee and Hudson meet and try to work things out before formal legal action is filed. In related business, the Town Council voted Tuesday to increase funds allocated for attorney fees from $30,000 to $58,200.