Cagnolatti, Lambert and Joseph delay Planning Commission reform (it’s over)

Councilman John Cagnolatti

When the specter of Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton pervades a Strategic Planning Committee meeting, it can only mean the fix is in.  Thursday’s meeting agenda included:

Discussion of proposal to amend Home Rule Charter Section 4-18 to limit Ascension Planning Commission’s authority to approve/deny subdivision preliminary plats (Councilman Daniel Satterlee)

Anathema to every council member not named Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, ten elected officials are perfectly satisfied that the appointed Planning Commission is targeted for the public vitriol engendered by subdivision approvals.  Several council challengers have expressed support for wresting the commission’s authority to approve subdivisions with Election Day one month away.

One of those challengers, Jeff Pettit used up his three minutes at the public speakers’ dais to urge Strategic Planning to recommend the measure, which would necessitate amendment of the Home Rule Charter by a vote of Ascension’s electorate.

“Residential subdivision approvals have transformed Ascension Parish over the decades, for the worse,” he responded in a post-meeting interview.  “Residents, rightly I believe, point to unbridled growth for causing drainage, traffic, and other problems with seven Planning Commissioners taking the blame.  That blame should go to the elected council which should bear the responsibility for making these important decisions.”

Pettit argued that “citizens should have the opportunity to vote the individuals responsible out of office” which cannot happen with an appointed Planning Commission.  Councilman Satterlee, whose consistent support of the initiative dates back two years when he chaired Strategic Planning, does not shirk from the prospect and he seemed to have a council ally on Thursday.

Todd Lambert “has always thought that we should be making that decision.”  He recounted his battle with developer, Ross Berthelot, “a challenge that went on for months…”

Councilman Todd Lambert takes stand against subdivision development

The moment was fleeting.

Then it was Councilman John Cagnolatti’s turn.  He relied on O’Neil Parenton, the Parish Attorney who has done all in his power to procrastinate, obfuscate, overcomplicate, and orchestrate the council’s avoidance of the issue.  Claiming to have spoken with Parenton, Cagnolatti consulted notes in saying:

“The Planning and Zoning Commission is required by state statute for every parish, whether you’re a police jury, parish council, whatever form of government you have; Home Rule Charter.  And the process, I don’t know of any Planning and Zoning Commissions that are elected, the process has been established.  People apply, they are interviewed by Personnel Committee in our case.  They interview these people and they consider the qualifications, all aspects.  It’s an independent selection process.”

Cagnolatti is wrong.  Louisiana law does NOT require any political subdivision to have a Planning Commission.  Revised Statute 33:102, entitled Grant of power to parishes and municipalities, reads:

Every parish and every municipality may make, adopt, amend, extend, add to, or carry out official plans as provided in this Subpart, and may create by ordinance a planning commission with the powers and duties as provided by this Subpart, and may appropriate funds for the commission.

And that is aside from completely missing the point.  Anyone who believes the appointment of Planning Commissioners is not predetermined has not been paying attention.

“Each member votes and the points are tallied by the secretary, and they rank the applicants.  That process is something that, I don’t know how we get around it if we try to change it.  It’s a state statute and we’re in compliance.  How do we change it at the local level?”

Well, you change it by amending the Home Rule Charter as Councilman Satterlee would point out, citing an Attorney General’s Opinion 18-0175 issued to Parenton on July 1, 2019:

“(P)ursuant to Section 4-18 of the Charter, the Council must create (and has created) a planning commission endowed with all of the powers and duties set forth in general state law, and the Council may not limit those powers.  Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 03-0110, which  directly addressed the powers of the Planning Commission, stated that the powers granted to the Planning Commission are those set by state law ‘unless and until the charter is amended to provide otherwise.’  It should therefore be clear that the powers of the Planning Commission may not be lessened except by an amendment to the Charter adopted by the voters of Ascension Parish.”

Cagnolatti was oblivious; not surprising given that he seems unaware that Ascension’s Planning Commission adopted a new Master Plan on May 29 (check back with us on Monday for that story).  He went on:

“Secondly, Doc, I read it.  State statute requires a two-thirds vote of the council to overrule a subdivision disapproved by the Planning Commission.  As such, opting out of the two-thirds vote requirement, effectively limiting the Planning Commission to an advisory capacity prohibited by Louisiana Revised Statute 33:103(F).  And could exceed the authority vested in the Home Rule Charter community by law. (Cagnolatti cited Louisiana’s Constitution Article 6).

It is therefore the opinion of this office (Cagnolatti was reading directly from a prepared statement by this point) that the Council may not propose an amendment to the Charter to opt of the requirement that a two-thirds vote of the legislative body is required to overrule a subdivision disapproval by the Planning Commission.  However, nothing precludes the council from reviewing decision of the Planning Commission.”

Parenton has compromised his professional reputation in a moronic attempt to derail the effort at reining in the Planning Commission.  Cagnolatti regurgitating Parenton’s drivel was sub-moronic.  The operative statute (LSA-RS 33:103(F)) reads:

“Where a parish or municipality has adopted a charter for local self-government or other home rule charter and such charter provides for the establishment of a planning commission… In such case, any parish or municipality with a home rule charter may avail itself of the power and authority granted herein to a planning commission; however, nothing herein shall diminish any power or authority already granted by a home rule charter or other law.”

Which Satterlee would point out along with the fact that zoning decisions are left to the Council after a mere recommendation by the Commission.

“Every time there’s a vote to override what they recommend, you’re undermining the confidence you put in staff,” Cagnolatti argued, oblivious that the commission and department are separate entities.  “You want to have confidence in the people who are enforcing the rules and the codes we have on the books.”

Sort of like he did…

when the Zoning Commission recommended denial of a certain rezoning request by Grady Melancon.  The commission and staff both recommended denial of Buzzard Roost’s rezone of 350 acres from Conservation to Industrial.

Satterlee’s motion to forward a recommendation to the full council, urging the body to put amendment of Section 4-18 before the voters, failed for lack of a second.  Along with Chairman Oliver Joseph, Cagnolatti and Lambert voted to have the administration (President Kenny Matassa’s administration) research what nearby parishes do and report back, with O’Neil Parenton on hand, to the committee.

Effectively, it is over unless and until a new council takes up the issue in 2020.

Election Day is October 12