Legislators: Nominations can wait

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Local legislators say a longstanding issue for an area levee district should be resolved after the beginning of the new year.

In 2015, lawyers in Gov. Mike Foster’s office determined that four members of the North Lafourche Conservation, Levee and Drainage District – members who were appointed after the district was created in 1992 – do not meet the residency requirements for service on the levee board.

When Commissioners Carroll Clement, Nelson Constant, Michael Delatte and Dennis Martinez were appointed to the board by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, the district’s boundaries encompassed east of Bayou Lafourche from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Lafourche Parish line.

The district, however, was redrawn in 1996 along different boundary lines after it was determined that the district overlapped the Atchafalaya Basin and Lafourche Basin levee districts.

That left the four commissioners residing outside the district.

Although Lafourche Parish was allowed to withdraw from the Atchafalaya Basin, the parish remains in the Lafourche Basin district, which encompasses Lafourche Parish from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the parish line east of Bayou Lafourche.

The issue of the commissioners’ continued service on the board has lingered, with Lafourche Parish District Attorney Camille A. “Cam” Morvant II recently inquiring why local legislators have not nominated suitable replacements.

“It is my understanding that the Governor’s Office has twice requested that area legislators submit nominations for the four ëvacancies’ so that the governor may appoint members who satisfy all the necessary requirements for service on the district board,” Morvant wrote in a letter to the local delegation. “Please advise as to why the requested nominations have not been submitted.”

Local legislators say some names have been submitted – current levee district commissioners Lockport Mayor Richard Champagne and contractor Ronald Adams replaced two former commissioners who died in 2015. State Rep. Loulan Pitre Jr., R-Cut Off, submitted the names of Champagne and Adams, who were both sworn in as commissioners.

Pitre said he stopped short of submitting other names for the four posts because he wanted equal representation on the board for the areas the board services.

“My area already had people on the board,” said Pitre. “I didn’t feel the whole point of it was to stack the board with people from my area.”

The consensus now among legislators seems to be that the commissioners’ status might be best addressed with the new governor.

State Rep. Warren Triche, D-Chackbay, said local legislators have agreed to that course of action.

“We as a legislative group are going to wait until the next administration with the new governor in 2015 to decide how the new alignment of levee districts and appointments of new members will take place,” said Triche.

He added that the commissioners – whose actions were deemed valid and who were allowed to continue serving in the interim — have been awaiting legislative enactment of laws that might alter their circumstances.

“The wording that I had received from an assistant to the attorney general was that, unless someone filed a lawsuit in court to challenge them, since they had already gone through the (appointment and confirmation processes), they would be allowed to stay,” said Triche.

The commissioners could be removed by the governor or as the result of a lawsuit challenging their eligibility. No one has challenged them in court, however.

Their status could also have been altered through legislative action.

Triche had attempted to remove Lafourche from the Lafourche Basin Levee District and have the North Lafourche district created along its original boundaries, which would have resolved the issue of the commissioners’ eligibility.

It would have also provided for Lafourche Parish to be represented by only two levee districts: the North Lafourche district and the South Lafourche Levee District.

But his legislative attempts were unsuccessful.

One bill concerning the North Lafourche Conservation, Levee and Drainage District was successful, however, and local legislators are looking to that legislation as a resolution to the issue.

This past legislative session, state Sen. Reggie Dupre, D-Montegut, was able to pass Sen. Bill 34, now Act 179, which addresses the composition of the district’s board of commissioners.

The act spells out the method by which any future vacancies on the board will be filled.

The six local legislators who represent portions of the district will submit nominations, and the governor will appoint one nomination from each legislator’s list. Also, the Lafourche Parish president and mayors of Thibodaux and Lockport will submit nominations, subject to ratification by the governing authority of each respective municipality, and the governor will appoint one member from each.

It also provides a mechanism by which local legislators can intervene should local officials fail to nominate commissioners.

“In the event nine commissioners are not appointed within 60 days of the beginning of the term or a vacancy … then another list of nominations selected by a majority of the members of the Legislature representing the district shall be submitted, and the governor shall appoint the remaining required commissioner from the list to bring the total number of commissioners to nine,” the act reads.

Act 179 takes effect in January.

In the meantime, Dupre has recommended a meeting between Morvant and the Lafourche delegation to discuss the available options.

However, his suggestion for resolving the matter would be to wait to send a letter to the new governor in January, asking that the replacement of the commissioners be made a priority in the Governor’s Office.

“I think ultimately the issue of whether these four board members are serving legally is already settled,” said Dupre. “I’m not sure it would be worth the expenses of a legal battle (over) what will ultimately be a moot issue come January.”