Two St. Landry Parish council members are continuing to question the limits of authority that Parish President Jessie Bellard maintains over approval for road work and drainage maintenance contracts that they insist should require more council oversight.
Bellard says he is adhering to Home Rule Charter and state law guidelines in determining the costs paid to contractors for parish-wide ditch-clearing initiatives, which will use about $2 million worth of American Rescue Act funding and various sources of local revenues before achieving completion.
Council members Wayne Ardoin and Harold Taylor say they are not opposed to parish government dirt-removal efforts in addition to the ongoing parish-wide road repaving projects the Bill Fontenot administration began in 2014 after voters approved a 2% sales tax increase in unincorporated areas of St. Landry.
Ardoin and Taylor told other parish council members during a meeting Wednesday they are questioning whether Bellard can continue to negotiate and sign contracts without presenting more details of the signed agreements for council members to discuss in open meetings and whether the costs of capital outlay projects require bids or just cost proposals.
Taylor abstained during the meeting when 11 other council members voted to approve a 2022 operating budget and amend the 2021 budget which both reflect anticipated surpluses of about $400,000.
Ardoin agreed to approve both budgets, but not before he issued a statement that contained his objections to the way contract discussions and approvals are being handled by Bellard’s administration.
Are state bid laws being followed?
During his presentation, Ardoin said an answer provided for a Jan. 11 question on the Louisiana Legislative Auditor website said debris removal and ditch digging should be classified as service contracts and are not subject to the state’s public bid law.
Ardoin said the opinion provided on the website does not answer all the questions that he feels are necessary to cover the entire process of parish government work being done on the ditch and road projects.
“The central question is: Were the contracts to perform the work? Were there written instructions required to submit certificates of insurance to parish government? Did the council approve the contracts for those services performed between January 2021 and September 30, 2021?” Ardoin asked.
Ardoin referred the council to a meeting he attended earlier this month with Bellard and parish government auditor Steve Moosa.
“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the legal ramifications of spending millions of dollars on digging ditches and overlaying roads without the benefit of competitive bids or a request for proposals. The short answer Mr. Moosa gave to the question was, yes it is legal,” Ardoin admitted.
However, Ardoin added that his objective in questioning bid process used by parish government for contracts is to offset any perception the public might have.
“It is my hope that going forward, we take the time to receive competitive bids on projects such as these in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Ardoin told the Council.
Ardoin said he was approving last year’s amended budget as well as the one for 2022 based on Moosa’s opinion that the work being done on ditches was obtained according to state guidelines.
“I am asking at this time that all future work of this nature that is done without the benefit of bids, an RFP or contract, be presented to the council for approval before the work is to begin,” Ardoin said.
Should the council be included for all decisions?
After the meeting, Taylor said the parish Home Rule Charter allows the parish president to sign all contracts and acts of sale and other obligations that are authorized by the council.
“I am concerned about the shortcomings of making quick decisions. The council has an obligation to spend the people’s money in a wise and thoughtful manner,” Taylor said during the meeting.
President says he follows the law
Bellard said he is “transparent” when it comes to apprising the Council of spending.
“I am going to do my part with the charter,” said Bellard. “I am not going to bring things up (in front of the council) that does not require council action.”
Bellard said he follows state law in regard to ditch digging and debris removal.
“I am not going to put the parish in jeopardy. Debris removal or digging ditches is a contract for services and not subject to the public bid law,” Bellard said.
“Not all contracts are going to come before the council. This is not the old police jury. I will tell y’all about things in FYI’s, but I don’t always need (the council’s) permission to do work. It seems the only issue there is with (Taylor) and (Ardoin).”
This article originally appeared on Opelousas Daily World: Does parish president need council approval for capital projects?