One-hour and seven minutes after entering Executive Session at the end of a lengthy meeting on Thursday, Ascension’s Parish Council emerged from its closed door deliberations on Delaune v. Ascension Parish Planning Commission et al. Suit #129606. And the meeting was abruptly adjourned.
There was supposed to have been a vote to settle the lawsuit, a fact confirmed by multiple council members. Not that anyone could tell from the publicly noticed agenda, sans relevant documents which President Clint Cointment’s administration has made available for public inspection as a matter of course. But Cointment played no role in scheduling the Executive Session which council leadership sought to hide from public view.
The official reason is attorney-client privilege though any second year law student (that’s when Ethics was a mandated course back in the day) can tell you the privilege is in favor of the client who may waive it at any time without repercussion. The only way to have accomplished that ignoble task, settling the lawsuit, would be to approve the preliminary plat denied by the Planning Commission on March 11, 2020 (or pay the landowners $8 million, the price-tag reportedly offered by developer, Lynn Levy Land Company).
It is another in a long line of subterfuge perpetrated by the current Parish Attorney, O’Neil Parenton who has compromised his credibility in the attempt to subvert the vote of Ascension’s Planning Commission…
and the decision of the Planning Commission Appeals Board.
It is well past time for District Attorney Ricky Babin to replace Parenton as legal counsel for Ascension Parish Government. We digress.
Parenton is not alone in misleading the non-lawyers among 11 council members. (Three legal minds of varying acuity occupy council seats. In no particular order; Travis Turner, Corey Orgeron and Aaron Lawler).
When this very same council convened as the Planning Commission Appeals Board in July of 2020 Councilman Corey Orgeron propagated the pro-development subterfuge. It was Councilman Orgeron who made the motion to overturn the Planning Commission’s denial of Antebellum Pointe.
“If we deny them the right to move forward the parish could get popped for $8 million,” Orgeron attempted to justify his motion; adding that the body was limited “to listen to the facts and evidence” in rendering its decision.
We would have expected anyone passing the minimal competency test that is Louisiana’s Bar Exam to have some familiarity with the State Constitution. Article XII, Section 10, Paragraph C of that august document reads, in pertinent part:
“…no public property or public funds shall be subject to seizure…No judgment against the state, a state agency, or a political subdivision shall be exigible, payable, or paid except from funds appropriated therefor by the legislature or by the political subdivision against which the judgment is rendered.”
In laymen’s terms it means that no plaintiff which has obtained a money judgment against the political subdivision called “Ascension Parish” can seize any parish-owned property in satisfaction of said judgment. And, no such judgment can be paid unless the governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council, votes to appropriate funds specifically for that purpose.
The subterfuge did not end there.
Pro-Delaune Estates elements on the council and the Parish Attorney argued that an updated Traffic Impact Study for the proposed subdivision somehow altered the legal calculus. The study before the March 2020 Planning Commission relied upon future construction adding lanes to Interstate 10 (the work was subsequently completed), combined with changing signalization timing on traffic lights at multiple Hwy 73 intersections.
But those signals are the exclusive province of Louisiana DOTD which, according to President Cointment, has not authorized the change and is unlikely to do so. Those pro-development forces argued that a new traffic study, completed sometime in November 2020 according to multiple sources, enhanced the plaintiffs’ case.
Unfortunately for the Delaunes, the litigation seeks to overturn the Planning Commission’s March 11 decision which was based on the original study. Which means that any post-hearing studies are irrelevant and inadmissible in a litigation to determine whether or not the commission’s action was “arbitrary” or “capricious.” That is the virtually insurmountable burden of proof the plaintiffs must meet.
Was the Planning Commission’s March 11, 2020 denial of Antebellum Pointe arbitrary and/or capricious?
None of which precludes the developer from resubmitting its preliminary plat, with or without the new traffic study, to the Planning Commission once 12 months has elapsed from the Planning Commission’s denial (March 11, 2020). Section 17-4096 of Ascension’s Unified Land Development Code-Re-submittal Procedure:
“A. If the Planning Commission denies an application, the applicant has the option of appealing the decision as defined in section 17-4092 or re-submitting the application if the following conditions have been met; 1. At least 12 months have passed since the original hearing date; Or 2. Changes have been made to the original application that address the concerns stated in the Commission’s decision to deny the application.”
President Cointment, conceding that point, maintained that the developer’s current Traffic Impact Study still fails to satisfy the Development Code requirements.
“But they are within their rights to resubmit the plat to our Planning Commission which the council appoints to make these decisions,” he said.
Cointment has publicly opposed the development on three occasions, the last being yesterday…
Had the council voted to settle pending litigation on Thursday he could have exercised the Presidential Veto power afforded in Ascension’s Home Rule Charter.