Killing Animal Shelter: What is Cagnolatti and his council supporters hiding?

Gonzales Councilman Cagnolatti (file photo)

Ascension’s Parish Council is not known for acceding to the clearly expressed will of its constituents, some of its membership more oblivious than others.  Given what transpired at the most recent council meeting one might think that District 10 representative John Cagnolatti is more attentive to his “people” than his colleagues, it would be a wholly new phenomenon for the Gonzales representative.  Cagnolatti led the body in rejecting a site proposed for the parish’s new animal shelter by the Animal Services Board because he got a few phone calls and emails.

The site, 6.24 acres east of Hwy 44 and just north of the City of Gonzales’ limits, is appropriately zoned and the purchase agreement price is the same as a Market Value Appraisal obtained by the Board.  $550,000 is, according to multiple sources, significantly less than the owner’s original asking price.  Zoning restrictions and a seller’s market are the two factors most impeding identification and acquisition of property to house the new shelter according to Ruth Phillips, Executive Assistant to President Clint Cointment who has been tasked with assisting the Board.

Ascension, as a political subdivision of Louisiana, is prohibited from paying more than 10% over the appraised value for any property.  Not that any of it mattered on Thursday, because the fix was in for other reasons.  Phillips’ request to defer the vote until a Public Information Meeting could be conducted on February 28 was ignored.

Councilman Cagnolatti, who has routinely ignored constituent overtures for seven years (a fact to which your writer can attest), did not identify the constituents who contacted him.  None of them bothered to show up on Thursday to offer public comment so, just what their actual concerns were is left a mystery.  Why bother when you have a council member to do your bidding?

What, or who, do you have to be to get Cagnolatti’s attention?  Apparently, it helps to be “immediate family” as defined by the state Ethics Code.  Or it could be that status as another elected official is the trick to get Councilman Cagnolatti’s ear.

Open field at left is proposed shelter site, abutting Linenwood Subdivision to the right.

Well, he “heard from a number of constituents” who alerted him to the proposed shelter site for the first time last Wednesday, one day before the council meeting.  “As it turns out,” Cagnolatti claimed on Thursday, “this project is in my district.  I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday.”

The fact that the same item appeared on the February 7 Finance Committee agenda in Executive Session means that Councilman Cagnolatti does not read his packet in preparation of meetings or, more likely in our opinion, he is being less than honest.

“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and two very stern emails,” he resumed in preparation of his motion to “refer this back to the Animal Services Board and ask them to propose a different location altogether.  I’m just representing my people.”

What is the problem with the proposed site, you may be wondering.  And who are Cagnolatti’s people?

Linenwood Subdivision is 24 lots bisected by the aptly named Twin Circle Drive, added into the City of Gonzales at its northernmost point just over a decade ago.  The subdivision abuts 6.24 undeveloped acres that Ascension’s Animal Services Board proposed as the location of a new Animal Shelter.

Included in the Market Value Appraisal

Among the residents of Linenwood Subdivision are Gonzales’ Chief of Police, an attorney whose firm represents the city and the police department, an Ascension Parish judge, and Councilman Cagnolatti’s daughter. He failed to disclose any of it with his motion to kill the proposed shelter site.

NOTE:  We emailed the District 10 representative seeking comment on the potential conflict of interest.  True to form, he ignored this constituent.

Of greater concern, why did six members side with Cagnolatti in refusing to even consider the proposed site?

District 9 Councilman Dal Waguespack

Councilman Dal Waguespack said nothing expositive of his vote, failing to disclose that three residents of Linenwood Subdivision happen to be extended family.  Less egregious than Cagnolatti’s omission, though Waguespack is known to enjoy a close relationship with those cousins.

District 3 Councilman Travis Turner

Councilman Travis Turner’s District 3 constituency includes much of the City of Gonzales.  He is politically aligned with the Chief of Police.  Turner added nothing to the minimal discussion before voting to kill the proposed shelter site.

District 1 Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas

Mercifully, Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas spared the viewing public from having to decipher the justification of his vote.

District 4 Councilman Corey Orgeron

Prairieville’s Councilman Corey Orgeron spent two years as the governing authority’s representative on the Animal Services Board.  Inexplicably, he had nothing of value to contribute to the minimal discourse.  Wondering why Lamar Dixon Expo Center (or some other parish-owned property) was not being considered, Orgeron must not have attended the Board meetings when it was revealed that Lamar Dixon Foundation disallowed the land use pursuant to its sales agreement with Ascension Parish in the late 2000s.

District 5 Councilman Dempsey Lambert

“We’ve been dealing with this long enough.  We’ve got to, some way or another, move this forward.  Let’s face it, there’s limited space we have left.”-District 5 Councilman Dempsey Lambert who made the administration’s case before voting to kill its proposal.

Go figure.

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler (file photo)

At least District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler made an actual argument in justification of his vote, but only after taking a shot at the Cointment administration.

“We should’ve had the meetings before we brought it to the Council.  For transparency’s sake, those meetings should’ve been held before this,” Lawler opened with the petulance he’s famous for.

Not that truth/facts mean anything to Lawler, but the Animal Services Board did not put the matter forward.  Minutes from the Board’s February 1 meeting:

Sharla Roussel motioned to approve the location and the discussed dollar amount and to submit it to Council and the Finance Committee for approval. Darin Shaw motioned to approve Sharla’s motion and Teri Casso seconded the motion.

Which ignores the fact that the Council Finance Committee was supposed to take it up nine days earlier, and nothing prevented him from participating in the monthly Animal Services Board meetings.  He could have gotten with council ally, Teri Casso, who did attend those meetings.  Lamenting the absence of meetings, then voting against holding a February 28 meeting…illogical.

“That property is a prime commercial real estate property,” Lawler resumed.  “For the benefit of Ascension Parish as a whole, the revenue that we’d be losing long term by putting it on prime commercial property is pretty significant.  When you talk about maximum use of land, that is right across, almost, from Lowe’s; it’s next to Community Steel.

“That area is going to continue to blossom, especially as we…we’re gonna do road work, significant road work in that area which is going to increase the value of that property; meaning that we’re going to lose significant long-term tax benefits,” he continued.  Explaining that “most animal shelters are not located (on) prime commercial properties… It’s one of the main reasons, because it’s just not a wise use of the land.”

The appropriateness of any council member dictating a private property owner’s land use aside, it is not the dumbest thing Lawler has ever said.  It is among the most hypocritical, though.  Consider this item from the Planning Commission’s March 14, 2018 meeting packet; Item X (C): Oak Grove Townhomes (OGT).

The proposed townhome subdivision is located on the southeast corner of LA Hwy. 42 and LA Hwy. 73 approximately 1,350’ east of U.S. 61 (Airline Hwy.) in Council District 7 and is zoned Mixed Use 2 (MU2). The application is on behalf of Dantin-Bruce Development, LLC by McLin-Taylor, Inc.

Building residential property in on acreage zoned Mixed Use is “just not a wise use of the land” if the barometer is “long-term tax benefits.”  Yet Lawler bent over backwards to accommodate his pals at Dantin-Bruce, up to and including the rigging of its appeal to the Council after the Planning Commission had already denied OGT’s preliminary plat.

When the plat was first considered by Planning the vote was 4-2 to DENY, followed by an appeal which was added to the end of the Council agenda on February 15, 2018.  Lawler concocted a false narrative to justify kicking the plat back to Planning (see Council meeting minutes below).

Councilman Aaron Lawler made a motion to refer the item back to the Planning Commission to correct a potential problem with the Developers not be allowed enough rebuttal time.

It was another in a long line of lies by Lawler.  There is no rebuttal time granted by Planning’s bylaws, nor does it appear anywhere in the applicable regulations.  In any event, the developer had been provided ample time to rebut any claims according to Planning Director Jerome Fournier who had reviewed the recording of Planning’s original denial of Oak Grove Townhomes.  Sent back to Planning for RECONSIDERATION…

RECONSIDERATION of once denied Oak Grove Townhouses: The fix is in.

and the FIX WAS IN, much like it was on February 16 when the proposed location for the Animal Shelter was dismissed without consideration of any kind.

Keep in mind, all the administration sought was a deferral to present the Animal Services Board’s findings to the public…and Council if its members bother to show up.  That meeting is still a go, scheduled for February 28 at the Governmental Complex.