Documenter: Natalie McLendon
Meeting: Sulphur City Council
Date: September 12, 2022 5:30 PM
The Sulphur City Council met on Monday, September 12 to hold a regularly scheduled, well attended meeting.
I arrived at approximately 5:00 PM to set up. The meeting was held in a portable building within a parking lot next to a shuttered building on Beglis Parkway in Sulphur, La. The property was purchased by the City of Sulphur in 2019 at a cost of $2.6 million. At 5:10 PM, there were about 15 members of the public seated in three rows of pews. Pelican Media, KPLC, and Rita Lebleu of the American Press were present. Conversation was lively. Council members Nick Nezat, Melinda Hardy, and Joy Abshire talked with the Council Clerk, Arlene Blanchard, from their positions on the raised seating area. Two Sulphur Police Department officers were present. Mandy Thomas, District 5, arrived shortly before Mayor Mike Danahay walked in. Four to five people could be seen turning in public comment request forms before the meeting began. Dru Ellender was the last council member to arrive, and the room got somewhat quieter. Mayor Danahay spoke briefly with the police before he took his seat. At 5:27, all noise seemed to dissipate. The meeting began at 5:30 PM.
- 12A, a rule to show cause for the condition of a building to be condemned at 1007 Alvin Street. Ellender said that the item would be removed with the understanding that the bond would not be released until the property is fully cleaned up.
- 11A, a resolution approving liquor license for Cameron Colichi Mexican Grill LLC 504 North Beglis Parkway. Trahan asked if anyone would like to make a public comment and explained that they added this item because the agenda had already been published.
- Concerned citizen Sheila Broussard stated that if they are adding a liquor license to something, to her that is not administrative, and they aren’t supposed to add anything at the beginning unless it is administrative. She said this doesn’t give the public a chance to know about it to be there to make comments.
- Cade Cole, the city attorney, responded that the requirement is that adding something to the agenda must be done unanimously by the council, and it is not limited to any class of matter. Broussard says that in the wording of the charter, it also states that if something is added that is not administrative, that a special meeting has to be called. The city attorney countered that there is not a requirement other than a unanimous vote.
- 11B, an introduction of ordinance amending the general fund budget for fiscal year June 30, 2022. This item was added because the agenda had already been published at the time the information was received.
- 11C, a motion to amend the addition 11B to the correct date.
- 11D, an introduction of ordinance authorizing Mayor Danahay to sign an agreement with the housing authority for the sanitation sewer lift station project. After this addition, the council approved the agenda as amended.
Surplus movable property worth approximately $1200 was approved to be disposed of without any public comment.
Items 2 and 3 amend a portion of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Sulphur to contain new definitions for subdivisions. Austin Abraham, Public Works Director, says the definitions changed include five or less lots for a minor subdivision, and five or more lots for a major subdivision. The city attorney explained that the old definitions went by acres, and the new definitions were created to indicate lots instead.
- Concerned citizen Bill Leblanc commented that the amendments to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting are regarding issues that the public knows nothing about. He expressed concern that council meetings are no longer recorded by the city and asked for the council to explain why they are doing things and be more transparent.
The council spent approximately thirty minutes on the next item, the introduction of an ordinance to grant Peggy Deville a variance to allow for chicken and pig enclosures to be less than the required 50 feet from a residential property line.
- Deville has 14 animals outside in her yard within city limits, and has removed six animals from her yard since the last meeting. Dru Ellender says this was voted down twice and Deville found something in the ordinance that was gray matter. Deville says the person who made the original complaint has not attended any of the meetings addressing this issue.
- Deville says that the animals are her emotional support animals, and it would cause undue hardship. Trahan says Deville does not have a clear plan. Three other concerned citizens came to the podium to speak on this issue, one in favor and two opposed.
- The council voted no on granting this variance and indicated that Deville would have to remove her agricultural animals from the city.
The council voted to authorize Mayor Danahay to enter into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the State of Louisiana Facility Planning and Control for Maplewood Pump Station, Planning, and Construction.
- Mayor Danahay states that “this is a $1.75 million project that is going to be mainly funded through capital outlays of the State, we’ve been awarded the money.” There was no public comment on this agenda item.
The council will appoint individuals to a new Home Rule Charter Commission (01:06:00 on video)
- The Home Rule Charter Commission would review the current Home Rule Charter and update it to be in accordance with current state laws. There was much debate regarding this agenda item.
- Concerned citizen Cindy Robertson commented that she “would prefer to have an election [of commission members] so that we can have a diversity of voices as we move to develop a new charter for our city.”
- Sheila Broussard said that she is ”disappointed that you all are rushing ahead with this so quickly. I think our mayor doesn’t look good when this happens.” Danahay had previously told KPLC that there should be no discussions coming up. “You all are aware that there’s a petition going on to have a charter commission that is elected and not appointed,” Broussard said. She also indicated that the petition had to have signatures of at least 10% of the electorate. Broussard asked the council to table this agenda item for a month so that they could listen to the people.
- Bill Leblanc would rather have an appointment than an election because of the cost effectiveness of appointment.
- Mandy Thomas states that nothing will happen until the voters of Sulphur decide on the commission’s proposals. Thomas feels comfortable with this because the people get the final say. “We want the most qualified candidates available. Afraid that if we have an election process there will be people who don’t want to get involved. I want someone who knows the law and who is tech savvy.”
- Nicholas Nezat said that he knows the importance of appointments, because his constituents have told him that that is not what they prefer.
- Joy Abshire states that her constituents say the opposite of Nezat’s and “everybody’s entitled to their views.”
The council accepted a bid for the Sulphur Housing Authority Sanitary Sewer Lift Station Replacement. The base bid amount by MPB Construction, LLC, is $625,457.00.
The council accepted Substantial Completion for North Water Well No. 13 – Verdine Water Plant. Mayor Danahay says that this is one of the steps in the comprehensive plan that was started in 2020 but was pushed back by COVID-19 and the storms. Danahay says there was significant water quality improvement. The pretreatment system will remove most of the iron before it gets to the filters. This is a 3-million-dollar project and the water problem will be improved in the next 1-2 years.
A variance was granted to Jerry Powell, 309 Morgan Road, to allow for a mobile home to be older than 10 years of age.
A liquor license was approved for Family Dollar Store #23877 at 1601 East Napoleon Street. There was no public comment.
Nick Nezat appointed Troy Darby to the Land Use Commission for District 2.
The 2022 General Fund budget was amended for the allowance of invoices that arrived in July for previous professional services under contract regarding hurricane recovery. The City did not expect these invoices to arrive when they did. Jennifer Thorn says the city controller is taking certifications and went to Lake Charles last week, where a retired finance director proctored her test. They discussed the city budget changes that would cause them to have a finding in their audit just as they did last year with the same circumstances. Last year’s audit findings are as follows:
Condition: The annual budgeted revenues exceeded the actual revenues and actual expenditures exceeded budgeted expenditures by more than five percent. This is in violation of R.S. 39:1311.
Response: The City will closely monitor the budget during the year to prevent this finding from reoccurring.
Thorn says she talked with the Legislative Auditor’s office, and they confirmed that this is ok to amend. Thorn says the situation needs to be dealt with now or when the audit comes out, they will have the same result. Hardy says if they got legal advice that it was okay to do, then she is fine with it. No one from the public made a comment.
The council voted on whether to condemn the properties on the following addresses:
- 300 Landry Street – Extension granted until November 1st
- The owner of the property plans to demolish the building but is having difficulty removing personal items. A member of the public offered to help remove their items. The owner of the property asked to not be shown at the public meeting.
- 701 Phillips Street – Condemned
- 705 N. Stanford Street – The owner must make more progress on securing and cleaning the premises.
- 1609 Palermo – The owners want to sell the home. Abshire recommends allowing 60 day extension with possible extension to 90 if they provide a realtor name, have a sign in the yard, and pay a water bill.
Cindy Robertson handed out documents regarding green houses. She says that if people use resilient rebuilding techniques, they will be able to get moved back in quickly. She is not asking for an ordinance change or change in building codes, she just wants to give people the information.
Amy Felice asked for Sulphur City Council public meetings to be filmed again.
Bucky Lebuff wants the council to pay Sulphur Police Department officers a fair wage.
- Why was the contract with a videographer not extended?
Filming of the meetings ceased in June. Previous minutes from the city council meeting from August indicate that a motion was made by Nezat to authorize a Request for Proposals for the videoing of City Council meetings, but there was no second and the resolution failed.
In a conversation with Nezat, I asked about this failed resolution and was told that it’s “dead in the water” with the city. Nezat believes there should be more transparency in local government. It needs to be recorded, “not only for transparency, but also for those who aren’t able to make it who may be disabled or homebound,” Nezat said.
The September meeting was not filmed by the municipal government.
- What is the current wage for police officers in Sulphur?
Sulphur Police are under the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service. State laws indicate that municipal police officers “shall receive and be paid a salary set by the State Civil Service Commission in accordance with the State Civil Service Commission’s uniform pay plan.” Entry level wages for municipal police officers are between $14.54 and $25.80 per hour. Police officers with the highest level of experience in their classification can expect to earn a maximum of $29.54 per hour, or about $61,000 annually.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/Fjh0s7lnU5I
Part 2: https://youtu.be/AsFTx2bN-PM
Part 3: https://youtu.be/i3vFrYloIEI