Sorrento council officially abolishes police department; defers controversial zoning decision

Sorrento Council

On November 4, 2014 Sorrento voters decided to abolish the town’s embattled police department.  Procedural requirements delayed its abolition until Tuesday when a unanimous town council voted for abolition without a word of discussion.  The council was divided when it came to a controversial zoning issue which attracted a council chamber full of local residents.

Last week Sorrento’s Zoning Commission recommended denial of a request to rezone property fronting Airline Hwy from C-2 (commercial) to R-3 (multi-family residential).  The initial request by three Grady/Jeffery Melancon-owned companies expressed the intent to build duplexes which did not sit at all well with residents in nearby Cypress Lake subdivision.

Jeff Melancon

Jeff Melancon

“There seems to be some confusion,” Jeff Melancon explained his request to table the R-3 request.

A week ago Melancon insisted that his companies are going to build single-family residences on the acreage but desire multi-family zoning which allow for larger homes.  He asked to table the matter so that he could present plans to the council which would demonstrate the ultimate vision for the property.

“They won’t do anything to hurt us,” Councilman Randy Anny expressed his unquestioning trust of the Melancons (Jeff’s father Grady was also in attendance on Tuesday).  “But there’s no plan.  How am I going to vote on something I can’t see?”

Randy Anny

Randy Anny moved to table the request as a skeptical Donald Schexnaydre looks on


“If it’s not going to be good for the people, I can’t vote for you,” Anny said of the request, even though “I grew up with” the Melancons.

Two council members, Donald Schexnaydre and Patti Poche’ were ready to vote on the request and voted against deferring the decision until June’s first council meeting.

“I’m ready to vote and it doesn’t matter what drawing the applicants bring before this body,” Schexnaydre said.  “If they are requesting R-3, multi-family zoning I will never vote to approve it.  This property was R-1 when the Melancon’s acquired it as I understand it; and they requested the change to its current C-2 classification.  As far as I know, nothing in the law entitles a property owner to a zoning change.”

Councilwoman Poche was just as adamant.

“What happens if we approve the request and they end up selling the R-3 property?” she asked.  “Is the buyer bound to the Melancons’ offer to limit the development to single-family residences or can the new owner build apartments?”

A successor in title could put the property to any use permitted by R-3 zoning under Poche’s scenario.  But Wanda Bourgeois and Marvin Martin joined Anny in tabling the request until the next council meeting.

“I can’t support the request and will vote to deny it when it comes back to us,” Patti Poche’ asserted.  “I will not approve R-3 zoning for that property.”


Voters overwhelmingly decided to do away with the Office of Chief of Police on November 4 but a new police chief had been sworn in two weeks prior.  Fern Barnett assumed the office by default after two candidates withdrew from the race to succeed former chief, Earl Theriot, who resigned in disgrace.

Theriot resigned as a condition of his February 2014 plea deal after lying to federal agents investigating an incident where the he engaged in oral sex with an intoxicated woman in his custody.

Barnett would not go away, even as the council refused to appropriate funds to pay her the police chief’s salary.  She filed suit which was resolved two months ago when Barnett agreed to resign.  Her resignation cleared the last impediment to abolishing Sorrento’s police department which the council did on Tuesday without a word of discussion.

The council also authorized Mayor Mike Lambert to sign a contract with Henderson Auctions to sell off the last vestiges of the department, five patrol units that have sat idly behind Town Hall since Earl Theriot laid off his staff in 2013.

Sorrento equipment

In other news Sorrento will commence digging out its roadside ditches on Friday in an effort to alleviate drainage issues which have plagued the town.  The necessary equipment was just received.