Posted: Mar 7, 2011 5:54 PM by Shawn Kline
Five new commissioners make their debut with the Lafayette Housing Authority.
Shirley Vige was appointed to the board in late October but was sworn-in on Monday and elected Chairperson.
Mary Guidry joins the Housing Authority's board of commissioners from Iberia Bank. She was elected Vice Chair during Monday's meeting.
Attorney, Penny Malbrew and public housing resident Polly Williams also attended Monday's meeting- their first on the board of commissioners.
The last addition to the Housing Authority is Amos Batiste who also works with Acadian Ambulance.
Monday's meeting comes after City-Parish Council upheld City-Parish President, Joey Durel's decision to remove Joe Dennis, Leon Simmons and John Freeman last week.
The three were similarly removed from the board back in October but a district judge overruled that decision; saying it was not, "arbitrary and capricious" because Dennis, Simmons and Freeman were being targeted and not the fourth commissioner, Donald Fuselier. That decision will come up later in this article.
While Monday's meeting is a new step for LHA, the controversy is not over.
On the same day as the meeting, Simmons, Dennis and Freeman filed a motion holding City-Parish Council in contempt of court- suggesting its decision to uphold their second removal contradicted the decision of another district judge.
In February, District Attorney Mike Harson took the commissioners to court based on a meeting held on October 26th where the commissioners allegedly held part of that meeting behind closed doors. Harson argued it was a violation of open meeting laws.
Judge Arthur Planchard however, ruled in favor of the commissioners. Planchard stated they were 'not at fault' and dismissed the suit.
The City-Parish Council voted to hear the arguments between Durel and the three commissioners on March 2nd.
Although Judge Planchard had legally cleared the commissioners of any wrong doing, council would still be able to find enough evidence outside of the law to uphold Durel's decision to remove them. Council voted, deciding there was substantial evidence to suggest the commissioners' removal was fair on the basis of 'neglect of duty' and 'misconduct in office.'
The commissioners' attorney, Earnest Johnson argues the hearing should never have proceeded because of Judge Planchard's ruling in February.
Confused yet? Here's where the first ruling of not being 'arbitrary and capricious' could come into play:
Johnson says Durel's decision to remove Dennis, Simmons and Freeman based on the October 26th meeting (the alleged closed meeting) was once again not 'arbitrary and capricious' because former commissioner Donald Fuselier was also on the board at the time of that meeting.
Although Fuselier was not present at the controversial meeting, Johnson says he had the same responsibilities as the other three and is just as at fault.
Fuselier resigned from the commission in late February, complying with Housing and Urban Development's wishes to have all board members resign from their posts. Dennis, Simmons and Freeman did not.
Based on their previous court rulings, Johnson argues Durel and City-Parish Council have developed the habit of 'willful disobedience of a lawful judgment.'
His motion for contempt of court also anticipated Durel's quick appointments to replace the commissioners. Johnson says it further, "demonstrate(s) a pattern of (Durel's) actions tending to obstruct and interfere with the orderly administration of justice," and a "lack of respect for authority."
If district court accepts the motion, the commissioners will likely argue Durel was once again not 'arbitrary and capricious' since Fuselier was not asked to resign by City-Parish Government. The commissioners may also argue City-Parish Council lacked the authority to uphold a removal when a district judge had already cleared them of any wrong doing.
"I'm hoping it doesn't happen." HUD's Dan Rodriguez says, "we need the community to settle down and get back to what we're here for and that's to help the residents."
If district court accepts the motion and a judge reverses council's decision, Dennis, Simmons and Freeman will be reinstated and Durel's newest appointments will likely be nullified.