Lutcher aldermen call for state audit

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 10, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / April 10, 1998

LUTCHER – Mayor Elmore Trosclair again butted heads with the Lutcher Board of Aldermen at its regular meeting April 7, this time over the proposed town budget and selection of an auditor.

Trosclair was also lambasted over poor drainage work, stray dogs and a proposed pay raise for town employees in the face of struggling finances.

“I know with the last administration, we didn’t have this problem, sir,” declared Alderman Floyd Marshall. “Just how are we running this town?”

Trosclair defended his choice of town auditor, James Douglas, by claiming his appointment corresponds with his own term of office.

“When my term ends, his ends,” he said.

Alderman Patrick St. Pierre, on the other hand, reminded Trosclair a vote on Douglas’s appointment was taken each year, backed up by town ordinances. Douglas’ 1997-1998 appointment officially ends April 30.

Meanwhile, St. Pierre shopped around and found another auditor, Postlewaite & Netterville, willing to review the town’s books for a price tag $2,500 cheaper than that charged by Douglas.

“I’m not going to spend an extra dollar if we don’t have to,” St. Pierre said.

“Why wouldn’t we want somebody cheaper?” Marshall pitched in. “Let’s make progress and move on. We need help and I’d like to finalize that tonight.”

The mayor stubbornly declared, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m going with Douglas.”

Instead, at Alderman Troas Poche’s instigation, the board voted to call in the state Legislative Auditor. With Trosclair preparing to leave on vacation, Poche, as mayor pro-tem, said he would make the call. The vote was 4-0, with Danny Manuel absent.

Later, it was learned, Poche made the call Wednesday and was advised to try to reach a compromise with the mayor. However, the mayor is out of town and not expected back until April 20.

Meanwhile, Poche was further advised, if a compromise effort failed the state could assign an auditor, at the town’s expense. If no auditor is in place by April 30, the town would be in default and the matter referred to 23rd Judicial District Attorney Tony Falterman.

During later discussion on the introduction of the 1998-1999 town budget, to be approved by May 1, Trosclair said a raise in the sewer rate, doubling it from $6.50 to $13 per month, was necessary to help cover a $31,000 deficit.

Marshall said he first wanted to see “where we spent the money,” prior to approving any new budget. Later in the meeting, once provided with the list of expenses, Marshall discovered a $3,500 payment to town attorney Wilbur Reynaud for “professional services” in the lawsuit with Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.

The railroad and town were embroiled in a lawsuit over a railroad

crossing at King Avenue. The suit was finally settled June 30, 1997, with a $5,000 reimbursement by the railroad to the town.

The money was earmarked for beautification of King Avenue, but the lion’s share was snapped up by Reynaud.

Trosclair alluded to a drop in recent video poker revenues as contributing to the town’s financial shortfall. Poche said later the employees had a raise last year.

The town budget proposed by Trosclair stalled, as the board took no action to set a public hearing date.

Alderman Buddy Whitney said before he voted on the budget he wanted to talk to the town attorney Wilbur Reynaud; however, “Reynaud left out of our meeting two months ago and we haven’t seen him since.”

Marshall chimed in, “Let’s change attorneys and get a new auditor.”

St. Pierre, meanwhile, urged that the board had to amend and update the current budget prior to approving next year’s budget. Trosclair argued against that move, and no action was taken to set a public hearing.

During aldermen reports, Marshall suggested the erection of a 50-foot gate at the old dump site to keep people away from it. “We’ll do it,” promised Trosclair.

“When?” Marshall prompted. “We have no manpower.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Trosclair said.

The dump site was ordered closed by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in March 1997. Nothing, however, was done about it until Reynaud informed Poche about it while Trosclair was recovering from health problem last fall. At that point, in October 1997, the town had only a month to close the site.

Poche said Thursday, as acting mayor he had “90 percent of the work done,” needing only placement of an earthen cap on the refuse and enclosure of the property by a gated, locked fence. He said that’s when

Trosclair returned to work, halted work on the site and acted only to delay the closure since that time.

During the meeting the board did approve new insurance carriers for workman’s compensation, general liability, auto liability, law enforcement liability and public officials’ errors and omissions. The policies had been carried by Risk Management through the Louisiana Municipal Association.

The workman’s compensation policy has gone to Englade Boudreaux Insurance, Gramercy, for $12,500. That’s half the price charged by the earlier carrier.

The other policies have gone to Coregis Insurance, Baton Rouge, at $32,933. Risk Management had earlier carried these policies at $52,289, the town realizing a savings of $19,356 in annual premiums. This is a total savings of $31,856.

In other cost savings measure, the aldermen approved refinancing of eneral obligation bonds for a savings per year of $39,500.

In another matter, Betty Perkins spoke to the mayor about poor drainage work done near her home which had the effect of ponding the water on her property. She declared she had to go barefoot to reach her car every day after a hard rain due to several inches of water in her yard.

Darryllyn Cockburn complained of stray dogs which have until recently invaded her neighborhood and of a traffic light which has been malfunctioning for at least two months.

In other business:

* The board voted to approve purchase of a new backup pump and motor for the town’s water system, accepting a bid of $7,526.

* Heard from Lutcher Police Chief Denny Vicknair, who, during his report, recommending the hiring of a new deputy with three-quarters of his salary to be paid by grant money.

Action was not taken since the town’s aldermen are not sure how the deputy’s salary can be afforded.

Vicknair also complained of being subpoenaed to attend a workman’s

compensation hearing on Deputy Roddy Snyder who claims was punched in the neck by Trosclair during an argument with the mayor.

Vicknair said he wanted to consult Reynaud prior to the April 20 hearing in Baton Rouge, scheduled for 3 p.m. “My attorney’s not here tonight,” Vicknair griped, “but we’re not part of this.”

Trosclair said he was not subpoenaed to appear in court in the matter.

He commented after the meeting, “This little boy just wants money. He had a little red mark on his neck.”

He said he did not strike Snyder but added, “If I had, he’d still be in intensive care.”

Snyder is suing to collect medical expenses and loss of pay. His version is that he was discussing an outstanding traffic citation with a city employee. Trosclair intervened and ordered him to leave, then called him into his office and struck him during the argument.

Trosclair claimed Snyder was caught by the mayor badgering one of his employees and pulled him into his office for a private talk. He said he did not strike him.

The Lutcher Board of Aldermen is due to meet April 22 to consider its 1997 Community Development Block Grant application for water improvements. The meeting will start at 4:30 p.m.

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