Parish council refuses meeting change 5-5
Parish President David Hanagriff exited the room halfway through the meeting.
Councilman Dale Rogers cited a minister in east St. Mary as the reason.
And a packed house of church congregations watched their effort collapse in two 5-5-1 votes.
All this in a three-hour meeting of the St. Mary Parish Council, during which the majority of time was spent debating whether or not to change the council’s meetings from the second and fourth Wednesdays to the first and third Thursdays.
Previously, the East St. Mary Ministerial Alliance asked the council to make the change so that church members can become more active in parish affairs, but are unable, due to Wednesday’s traditional worship service. Two ordinances were crafted and presented by Councilman Craig Mathews that were up for adopting Wednesday.
The ordinances were footnoted by a memo stating, “Rev. Mathews intends to offer a motion to table this item until the next meeting on June 26, 2019,” outlining the changes in date and times of council meetings if it had passed. Mathews did not move to table.
The council clerk received some 17 correspondences in opposition to the change.
In public hearing before the council meeting, members of the alliance again stated their wish to have the change approved. Rev. Marty Harden, Patterson, said, “This is not one church entity, this is a lot of churches…I want you to know, not as a threat but as a promise, we’re watching.”
Jason Bailey, Morgan City, told the council, “We’re all Christians representing the betterment of each other, the betterment of our parish, to do what’s best for our parish…we need more people to step up, to get involved (in parish government).”
Bailey referred to conflicts with school activities and other organizational functions that are normally held on Thursdays. “They told me if this moved to Thursday, ‘we’re going to have to decide between our children’s athletic and academic events or the parish council.’
“I don’t want to have to make a choice between by children’s’ events and coming to the parish council meeting.”
Jonathan Hebert, Berwick, said he participates in a weekly Thursday function, and that would be a conflict. “I just hope we can find common ground where we can choose a night and time to meet for the parish council.”
Rev. Mark Gowan, Bayou Vista, and president of the alliance, said this issue has existed for “many years.”
“We’ve gone before the parish council before,” he said, noting various attempts to have the date changed, all the way back to the Police Jury. “We keep asking because we would love to be a voice and have that opportunity to be a voice.”
He noted that he and other pastors serve at public meetings to lead prayers and often stay throughout the session to keep abreast of governmental affairs. “We’re just asking that we get to come sometimes and be a part,” he said, adding that he has turned his church over to his son who is now senior pastor.
Rev. Mark Gowan Jr., Patterson, said “our only goal here is if we can make a change, we want to see a change made. We want to help...we’re looking for our opportunity to be involved, our opportunity to run if we want to run, to be a part of what’s happening in our parish that doesn’t conflict with our religious views and meetings.”
Rev. Allen Randle Sr., Franklin, said, “I echo the sentiments of all these people in moving this meeting to Thursday night. There’s a cry, there’s a call. Life is full of changes and some important matters will always face resistance, and that lets me know that there is something that is happening.”
Randle said the people are speaking and “the question is will the cry be ignored by those that we depend on, that we put in office?”
When the ordinance came up for consideration, Parish President David Hanagriff said, “This issue is about a parish council meeting. This is not a parish president’s meeting, this is a parish council meeting. I will not have a vote on it. I am actually in full support of this.”
Hanagriff said the issue has been brought up before, as Randle pointed out. He said it arose again when Chairman Gabriel Beadle approached him on the subject. “This might be the best time, for the reason that we have several long-serving council members that are not going to be on the council anymore (due to term limits.) And when that happens, we get a new crop of councilmen in here, sometimes change is a good thing.”
He asked Beadle to wait while he studied the possibilities of the change.
“Can the administration and the clerk make it happen? In doing that, and looking through it, we can. It’s not easy, but we can do it. It’s very simple: You have a large group of people in St. Mary Parish that go to church every Wednesday…God-fearing people that are passionate about going to church every Wednesday. Why should they have to choose between church and the meetings?”
Hanagriff said school functions “actually helped the argument. You’re telling me that schools aren’t putting functions on Wednesdays because of church? That’s a great thing. Why are they forcing the parish council to do that? Should we follow suit? They’re doing that for a great reason, and I agree with that…we should follow suit.”
Hanagriff said he’s heard that some individuals just want to run for office. “I think that’s a great thing,” he said. “I’m willing to move forward to make my administration make this happen because it’s for the betterment of St. Mary Parish.”
Mathews and Councilman Glenn Hidalgo moved to amend the ordinances to take effect on Jan. 1, rather than before the August qualifying date.
The debate continued with Mathews saying, “No matter which night these meetings are held, somebody’s going to be inconvenienced.”
He said he personally has meetings of some type or another virtually every evening. “My hope is that we can find some happy medium, some compromise, that the people who put this ordinance forward and put in a considerable amount of time and thought and research into it, (will) try to reach some type of compromise.”
Mathews said he welcomed public engagement in not only parish meetings, but all government sessions.
Councilman Patrick Hebert, in a lengthy statement, said a solution would be to simply change the time of the meetings, from the current 6 p.m. to an earlier 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m.
“We always holler, ‘Let’s get good people in there,’ and it harms my heart to be here tonight with people I love, I know the vast majority of people here, they’re good friends of mine…we’ve got to come up with a better solution for this.”
He said he was in favor of a change at first. He said was approached by Gowan about changing the meeting date, and said he’d consider it. There were later discussions with council members, Hebert said, and the ordinances were introduced, but then removed. They reappeared at a later session.
Hebert said he spoke to clergy and there was agreement that an earlier time for the meetings would be workable.
Councilman Paul Naquin said after 28 years on the council, “I am the only person from the police jury and the parish council that served on the Louisiana Police Jury Association. It would really affect me because most of the meetings are on Wednesday nights. So I do have an issue on time. Not just us, we have to think about the whole parish, people that are working, and have to go home and change clothes and go to the meeting. Let the new council come in and change the date.”
Voters will elect new councilmembers in several seats this fall for the upcoming terms.
Hidalgo said in August those candidates will qualify for election, and there may be people who wish to run, want to know when the meetings will be, not after elected and beginning their tenures.
“A lot of this should have been discussed beforehand,” he said.
Rogers had a statement as well. “When I first saw this thing on the agenda, I asked why is this being offered? I made phone calls and this is the answer that I received: I was told that a person wants to run for council and he is a preacher, and he does not want to decide, if elected, to go to a council meeting or attend his church on Wednesday night. This person is also insisting that this ordinance be adopted before qualifying deadline in August.”
He said he began hearing other council members “questioning the motives of this ordinance. Well, then the story changed. I was told that this person was not running for office and that he was not the reason for changing the meeting date. I listened to this group and was thinking of voting in favor two weeks ago. I was taken aback by a threat of votes that may be cast against those who vote against this ordinance.
“I will always vote what I believe is the best interest of the majority of this parish,” Rogers said. “I cannot support this ordinance based on the idea that we are doing this to satisfy one individual or one group of people in our parish of 50,000.”
Rogers said to those council members who “are term-limited out and the ones that decided not to run for re-election: Don’t be persuaded by the idea that this is being done for the majority of the population when it is in fact a political maneuver for some kind of control over this elected council. It makes no sense for this council to change meeting days for the (next) elected council.”
In fact, one written public input to the council on the ordinances also mentioned “to make a change for one person or leave it alone for the majority” in his comments.
Councilman Ken Singleton said, “We need to have a win-win…we have our meetings on Wednesdays and all our boards have meetings on opposite days (so as not to conflict with parish council).”
Singleton said that “a lot of my feelings align with Councilman Hebert and I think the win-win situation would be to move our meetings up to an earlier time.”
He then called for the question, an immediate vote without further discussion as outlined by Robert’s Rules of Order.
However, Beadle said there would be opportunity for every councilman to speak, which is not allowed when the question is called, according to Robert’s Rules. Some councilmen questioned the legality of that.
Legal counsel Eric Duplantis said the call is not appropriate until all council members have had an opportunity to comment.
Singleton withdrew the call for question.
Beadle then asked if any councilmen had more comments. Mathews pointed out that Hanagriff wished to say something, but Beadle just repeated the call for councilmen comments only. He then switched seats with Vice-chairman Kevin Voisin to make his own statement.
Beadle said that moving the meeting time to earlier “would be absolutely amazing for the administration and employees that have to be back here, it would hinder the public from being involved in meetings. After we make that decision, do now I miss work, and ask my boss to take off early to go to a council meeting? That’s the whole reason why Mr. Naquin and the Police Jury Association had moved this meeting to 6 p.m. to get the people in our area involved in the meetings.”
He said the new council will have the same opportunity as the current council to change meeting days and times. “This allows for anyone who wants to run to know when their meetings will be,” he said.
Moving the meetings, he said, allows the public to be more involved, as the crowd Wednesday demonstrated. “That is democracy,” he said. “That is how we as a council should be every meeting.”
Call for the question was again put forth by Singleton and a second by Rogers.
Hanagriff asked to make a comment, but Duplantis explained that no debate can take place after the call. Mathews questioned that, but Duplantis stood firm in his stance.
The call for the question was voted upon first.
In favor were: Rogers, Singleton, Hebert, James Bennett, Sterling Fryou, Naquin and Voisin.
Voting against were: Hidalgo, Beadle and Mathews.
Then the vote was taken on the amendment delaying the effective date of the ordinance to Jan. 1. The amendment was rejected.
In favor were: Hidalgo, Bennett, Voisin, Beadle and Mathews.
Against were: Rogers, Singleton, Hebert, Fryou and Naquin.
Finally, on the vote for the original ordinance, it also was rejected.
In favor were: Hidalgo, Bennett, Voisin, Beadle and Mathews.
Against were: Singleton, Hebert, Fryou, Naquin and Rogers.
By the home rule charter, a majority vote requires six members to pass an action.
Councilman J Ina was absent.
Hanagriff then said that, after being denied the floor twice, if the council did not wish to hear his comments he would leave, and he departed council chambers.
Rogers, when questioned after the meeting about his earlier statement that the proposed change was about one individual, said, “I’m going to leave it like that…I’m telling you information that I was told.”
When asked if a name was mentioned, he said, “At that first conversation there was not. At a later time I found out who that was all about. My decision was made because I knew what was being done was not for the majority of the parish. It wasn’t in their best interests. There was another motive behind it. I understand people want to come to meetings, I wish they would all come to meetings, I’m sorry there’s a conflict, okay? The main reason I was informed why this was being offered at this point in time was somebody running for political office and they wanted this done prior to the August (election) qualifying. Mr. Hidalgo backed me up before I even spoke: This needs to be done before August so people know when they’re going to have their meetings.”
Though he refused to reveal a name, he was asked by reporters if the individual was from east or west St. Mary.
“East,” Rogers said.