Documenter: Carl M. Ambrose, Jr.
Meeting: City Council Meeting for City of Lake Charles
Date: September 9, 2022
At the Sept. 9 city council meeting, a debate broke out about an African American Chamber of Commerce plan to develop vacant lots in North Lake Charles.
The meeting chambers were filled, minus a few empty seats, with city officials, media including The Advocate, American Press, and others. The African American Chamber of Commerce of Lake Charles had a large contingent of people, with a mix of citizens who had business and those just spectating. Finally, the principles walked in and sat down with the mayor, council members, city manager, attorney, and staff. City Council President John Ieyoub conducted the meeting.
City Council Members: Luvertha August, Mark Eckard, Rodney Geyen, Ronnie Harvey Jr, Craig Marks, Stuart Weatherford, and Council President: John Ieyoub
The biggest conversation of the meeting revolved around an ordinance that would allow the City of Lake Charles to enter into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Lake Charles (AACCLC) to administer and manage a one-year pilot program that seeks to redevelop 20 adjudicated property lots in North Lake Charles, with the stated purpose of providing more affordable housing options.
One of the most glaring things about the presentation was the absence of the voice of the president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Lake Charles, Fitzgerald Darbone, who was present but did not address the council.
Instead, it was JayVon Muhammad, who had a brief two-year stint as the executive director of SWLA Center for Health Service, who spoke as an “advisor” to the AACCLC. She gave the business office of the AACCLC. Ms. Muhammad lives in San Fransisco, Ca., but does own property in Laccasine, La.
At no time during the presentation did either Ms. Muhammad or Mr. Lewis, treasurer for ACCLC, say where the profits from the sales of these properties were to go or if any were going back to the citizens of Lake Charles or be rolled back into the program.
Mr. Ieyoub asked if there were any questions; no one said anything so the first witness was called. As Mr. Lewis was leaving the podium, Councilman Craig Marks asked a question about clearing titles—which led to a lengthy debate about titles, ability to clear them, and the project in general.
When asked by Mr. Marks, “Are there any contractors who have committed to the project and are on standby to engage in this? Mr. Lewis and Ms. Muhammad replied, “Yes, we do.” Mr. Lewis said he had given that information about contractors initially.
He read out a list of vendors, then Mr. Ieyoub asked if there were any more questions; Councilwoman Luvertha August began to explain how she has sat in separate meetings (4), and they led her to believe different things in different meetings [about the project]. She also expressed that she was uncomfortable making a decision either way because she had not had enough time to make a decision. Mrs. August also stated that some of the vendors on the list had no idea what they were talking about or had said? “I’m not affiliated with that.” Mrs. August said,” It disturbs me…, I feel like I’m on a carousel. It disturbs me because I don’t feel like I’ve gotten all the information I should have…”
Mrs. August also expressed that the procedure for how this came about this time is different than it usually happens with small informative meetings and also pointed out that the petition was signed by many people out of state. The petition was up for a month and garnered just under 100 signatures. Mrs. August also stated that this would set a precedent.
“It sounds good, don’t get me wrong; it sounds very good, but I’ve had too many changes thrown at me with changes made during the process, and I just don’t think I have enough to make a yay or no tonight, I’d like to know more about it.”
There was more debate about how much information was given and follow up questions council members had about the project.
The first to speak in favor was Mr. Tony Royster, who spoke passionately about giving back to the community and how Mr. Darbonne had answered his call for help with his back-to-school program. He said the community should come together and support efforts to improve the community. He told the council,” This should be a unanimous decision and an affirmative for this program …”
Mr. Mike Livings spoke in opposition to granting the properties to the AACCLC. “Why would you support the AACCLC, they have been registered in the state since ’93, and yet they haven’t done anything for the community,” he said.
He described how the non-profit group has no track record or any accomplishments and has helped no families though having been around since 1993. He also asked if the city was able to carve out a block of land for this group, why can’t it do this for citizens, and went on to describe how hard it is for citizens to get adjudicated property. He referenced HR960, Rep. Wilford Carters’ bill that would have helped give a group an opportunity to develop and improve the city,” He spoke about the calls that came from the administration of the city of Lake Charles to a Sulphur representative, who killed the bill. The rep said he was receiving calls from Lake Charles government officials and some citizens concerning the bill.
He asked: “My question is when we have a representative that sits in Baton Rouge that would help improve North Lake Charles with a group and get rid of some of these properties, and we wouldn’t give him a chance when he’s proven himself, yet go along with someone who hasn’t proven themselves.”
Councilman Mark Eckard said he was all in for the program, saying that he and Mr. Ieyoub have been on the council for 13 years. Councilman Rodney Geyen spoke briefly, saying,” $25,000 is not that much money…I would feel bad if I didn’t vote for this; I’m leaning with Mr. Eckard.”
Eventually, Mr. Geyen made the motion to defer, which passed 6-1. Mr. Eckard was the lone council member against.
Several ordinances were approved around office supplies and health insurance for the city, as well as changing some residential zoning areas. Two notable changes were enlarging city boundaries:
- An ordinance enlarging the boundaries of the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana, by annexing property generally described as the West side of the 4800-4900 blocks of Corbina Road, containing 48.62 acres. This was approved 7-0
- Another enlarged the city around 3552 Knight Lane, containing 0.92 acres. This was approved 7-0.
The following were all ordinances ordering demolition and authorizing the City of Lake Charles to enter into an agreement for the demolition of structures at the following locations:
- 2001 I-10 Service Road Church Street, Marvin Anthony Constantin and Nettie Lee
- Constantin, owners. (385-22) deleted
- 1200 -1214 North Shattuck Street, Allen Jones and Dorothy Marie Jones, owners. (425-22) Proof of service, motion passed to demo vote 7-0
- 2609 Cypress Street, Belinda Yvonne Hughes, owner. (426-22) proof of service defer 30-60 days vote 7-0
- 2008 Charvais Drive, John Terrell Fruge, and Marsha Fruge, owners. (427-22) staff spoke with owners defer 30-60 days vote 7-0
- 1721 North Jake Street, Albert Lanny Roy, Jr., Estate, owner. (428-22) Proof of service defer 15-30 days vote 7-0
The council also set dates for public hearings for condemnations of four other structures.
Another ordinance was approved on the “Pre-Positioned Disaster Mitigation Services for stabilization of city-owned buildings and appendages”: the final action to accept bids from these two companies on services in the event of a future disaster. Any mitigation work would be bid out at a “cost per item bid.” There is no cost—it’s only activated in the event of a disaster.