Land use and zoning board appointment could be short-lived

Published 11:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2022

Sulphur City Council members made good time addressing the 38-item jam-packed agenda at the Monday meeting that included the approval of the condemnation of almost 50 structures damaged by hurricanes to be covered by FEMA funding, clarification on manufactured housing restrictions and the approval of the mayor’s department head recommendations by the council.

A few of the agenda items prompted further comment, including the District 2 Land Use Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment appointment and the council’s decision not to enter into a new contract with the current meeting videographer for the next fiscal year.

Although Nick Nezat won the District 2 City Council Member Election June 4 – the second election after results from the first election were challenged – his opponent Mike Koonce occupied the seat for the June 13 meeting.

According to Sulphur City Attorney Cade Cole, who responded to the Southwest Daily News by phone after the meeting, Nezat could not be sworn in until noon on Tuesday after the election results have been certified by the Louisiana Secretary of State and received by mail by the city of Sulphur.

Koonce, though he will not be in office for the next four years, appointed Sam Mesuch as the Board of Zoning Adjustment member for District 2. Koonce also asked the appointee to tell why he wanted the position. No other appointees were asked to do so.

Council member Melinda Hardy asked Mesuch if he was aware of the last sentence of the ordinance regarding the appointment, “these terms shall run concurrently with the Sulphur City Council.

“With that said, my understanding that Mr. Koonce appoints you tonight and if approved, the term ends tomorrow at noon,” Hardy said. “You need to be aware that the incoming city councilman could change this appointment.”

Mesuch asked Nick Nezat, who had not planned to speak at the meeting and said he didn’t realize he would have the option to choose his own appointee, to speak.

“We both understand that he would not be my first choice,” Nezat said. “It’s a series of unfortunate events that have put us where we are. He’s my neighbor. He’s a good one. My first choice was someone different. I don’t think it’s right for him to be put in this situation, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to have to make a decision on my neighbor. I don’t think it’s fair for him to be appointed today and removed tomorrow. You have a right to do what you have a right to do today. He’s been put in this position through no fault of his own.”

Koonce asked the city’s assistant city attorney to clarify the ordinance.

“The language of the charter provision states it’s for the term of the council,” Billy Loftin said. “ I think that could be interpreted multiple ways. It could be the term of the appointing council or it could be the term of the city council. I don’t wear a black robe. But I think that should it be challenged that a judge might have to decide whether the intent would serve for this next four-year term. I think that was the intent. I also think the intent also anticipated the incoming councilman making the appointment.”

“It was my understanding that whatever y’all say tonight is final, that I would have no say tomorrow,” Nezat clarified. “The fact that I would have a choice has caught me off guard. I was told there’s nothing I could do that the Secretary of State has said that you will hold this office until tomorrow.”

Nezat will be sworn in and sit on the council at the August meeting.

Council members voted down the resolution authorizing Mayor Mike Danahay to enter into a contract with the videographer of the council meetings for the last three years. The contract amount is $6,000 per year.

Council member Dru Ellender commented that she would like to evaluate filming the meetings at all.

Sulphur resident Natalie Lawton said citizens have a right to see what’s going on and transparency in government is something the board should all strive for, and if taken away —a basic recording of city proceedings — it makes it more difficult.

Council member Joy Abshire said the council is transparent and honest.

“An open video can provide some accountability to make sure that always happens,” Lawton said.

Sulphur resident Markel Andrepont said that a citizen had agreed to pay for the filming of the land use meetings, and his suggestion was not accepted. Andrepont said he felt like the money could be found to continue to film the city council meeting, as well.

Danahay said that work has finally begun on Maplewood Drive after the contractor subcontracted the job. The original terms of the contract states the job will be completed 411 days after the original date of the contract.

Manufactured living home restrictions were detailed at the monthly meeting. Housing must be no older than 10 years, and persons wishing to move into Sulphur, who currently live outside the parish, must send photographs and or video of all four sides of the exterior and the interior of the home. Inspectors will go to manufactured housing owners who live inside Calcasieu Parish. Moving manufactured housing into Sulphur will also require proof of ownership.

Tommy Little was re-appointed to the West Calcasieu Airport Managing Board. The council accepted the mayor’s recommendations of the following: Chief of Police, Lewis Coates; Fire Chief, Dan Settle; Director of Human Resources, Connie Deville; Director of Finance, Jennifer Thorne; Director of Public Works, Austin Abraham; Director of Municipal Services, Denise Chandler; Director of Information Technology, Jennifer Montgomery; City Attorney, Cade Cole; and Assistant City Attorney/City Prosecutor, Billy Loftin.