A special called meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen for the City of Bastrop was held at the Bastrop City Hall on Thursday afternoon. The meeting, which was called to clear up some items that the members could not agree on in their first meeting of the new Mayor and councils term, was contentious and divisive on almost every agenda item covered.
One of the first items on the agenda was Mayor Henry Cottons proposed hiring of Tony Saunders and Volte, LLC, of Detroit, Michigan, to serve as financial and operational restructuring advisor to the City. Saunders gave a presentation to the Council on work he has done in Michigan, where Saunders among other things served as the Chief Financial Officer of struggling Wayne County.
Almost immediately a clear lack of communication between the new Mayor and Council became an issue. New Council member Larry Prater asked if there was a need for "urgency in this."
Cotton responded that" Every since International Paper left, we have been like a ship without sails."
As the discussion continued Council members asked about the need and cost of hiring Saunders. Council member Robert Shaw remarked, "We are not Detroit, I'm not sure we need a financial guru."
Cotton stated that he was embarrassed to "put him through this" referring to Saunders. Cotton passed out a magazine article from Crain's Detroit Business, that discussed Saunders, he also urged the Council and members of the audience to "Google him".
At one point during the discussion Cotton mentioned having a "package" on Saunders that he would supply to the Council members. Marvin Moore, Councilmen from District A, stated, "I think we as councilmen should have already gotten this package."
Newly elected Councilmen Darry Green asked if it wouldn't be best for the Mayor and Council to first go through the City's budget. While no exact figure was given for Saunders services, $76,000 a year was mentioned in the discussion.
Moore stated that he felt that if the City decided to hire a financial advisor that he should be someone local. Howard Loche, District E council member echoed this, remarking that with three Universities in our area, the type of advice needed might be better obtained there.
Cotton appeared to be frustrated with the council members questions about this proposed action. Saunders even spoke up about not wanting to cause division, Under any circumstances, I do not want this to be divisive," Saunders said. I am not a divisive type of guy."
Cotton responded,"I frankly did not expect this, I expected something different."
With that Saunders left the meeting and Cotton polled members of the Council asking who would be willing to serve on a committee to find a financial advisor locally.
Shaw responded, "I am not against a financial manager. I'm against pouring in money for this position that keeps us from giving our employees raises and getting an adequate sized police force."
Cotton asked for a vote to table the item until the next meeting, which was initially met with total silence. Ultimately, a vote was taken which was 3-2 to not table the item. Cotton asked the City Clerk if he could add the item to the next agenda and was told he could.
A second item on the agenda that proved to be even more divisive and problematic for the City was the appointment of a City Attorney. At the first council meeting of the newly installed board and Mayor, Cotton had recommended J. Rodney Pierre and Duncan Jones as "Co-City Attorney's". Pierre, served as the City prosecutor under the prior administration, while Jones was not an attorney for the City.
At the first meeting of the council, discussion was had by council members, about re-appointing Bastrop's long time City Attorney, Doug Lawrence. Cotton was firmly against that notion and wanted his appointments voted on. At this meeting, Cotton passed out copies of the City Charter which said that the Mayor is responsible for appointing the City Attorney, "with the advice and consent" of the council. The "advise and consent" clause seemed to cause even more controversy.
Cotton read what he termed as a 'letter of resignation" from Lawrence, which was, in fact, a letter Lawrence sent to the City to inform them that as the term of the council that appointed him had expired, so had his services. Cotton insisted that since Lawrence had "resigned" and Pierre had not, that Pierre was in fact still the City attorney. Cotton stated that if the board refused to act that he would simply assign all City Attorney functions to Pierre. The City has employed two people in this capacity in the past with one serving as the City Prosecutor, a position Pierre held under the last administration and one serving as the City Attorney for all other legal matters.
At one point during the discussion, Moore tried to place the name of Doug Lawrence into consideration. Cotton angrily pounded the gavel on the desk telling Moore "you are out of order."
Ultimately, as Cotton claimed to have legal opinions that Pierre was in fact still the City Attorney, regardless of action not being taken on his nomination, a vote was held to appoint Jones as a second City Attorney. That vote failed, with council members apparently unwilling to approve Jones simply because of the impasse on the other City Attorney. Several council members had expressed confidence in Jones but appeared to want to settle the entire matter before approving anyone.
Lawrence was in attendance at the meeting and after the meeting said that it was his opinion that the services of the City Attorney expired with the administration that appointed them. At present, it appears that depending on whose legal opinion is correct, the City may or may not have a legally installed City Attorney. It appears that an opinion will have to be obtained from the Louisiana Attorney Generals Office to settle that question.
In other business, the Council did agree to allow suspension of open container ordinances for the annual Simmons Sporting Goods Tent Sale later this month. The Council also approved a liquor license for Roma's Italian Grill. This license had been questioned at the last meeting as the business is possibly a few feet instead the required 300 feet from the First Methodist Church. After Council members discussed the situation with the church, the church agreed to allow the license so the council approved the restaurant's request.