By Russell Rachal/Opinion
As you are aware, there has been a concerted effort by the Natchitoches Parish President, Rick Nowlin to get a Special Meeting called for the Natchitoches Parish Council. Mr. Nowlin called a meeting for Thursday, December 19, 2019. Councilman Chris Paige and Councilwoman Patsy Hoover were the only Council members in attendance. There was an outcry of a certain news outlet that the Council members receive $500 per meeting, and since the members that were absent should be required to pay the money back. The truth is, per the Home Rule Charter, Section 2-04A the salary of each Council member shall be $500 per month. This is not $500 per meeting.
Mr. Nowlin called another Special Meeting for Monday, December 23, 2019. Councilman Paige and Councilwoman Hoover were in attendance. Council members deGraffenried, Bedgood, and Rachal were not in attendance. I was not in attendance for either meeting for a variety of reasons. The first reason is during the November 2019 Regular meeting, I made a motion to amend the agenda to appropriate the necessary funds to have an amended audit for 2018, and a full audit for 2019 to disclose any theft, embezzlement, payroll fraud, misappropriation of funds or any other discrepancies. Councilman Paige voted to not allow this motion. I subsequently voted against the approval and adoption of the 2020 Operating Budget for the Natchitoches Parish Government. There was numerous debts incurred in violation of the Home Rule Charter Section 2-10A(9) which states that any debt incurred in any manner authorized by law shall be approved by the Council. Mr. Nowlin hired the law firm of Gold/Weems to represent the Natchitoches Parish Government in two separate lawsuits that were filed on behalf of two former employees without the approval or knowledge of the Council.
The second reason that I was not in attendance was that Mr. Nowlin was trying to get the Council to adopt the Payne Sewer System and to create a Sewer District for Natchitoches Parish. I don’t feel that Natchitoches Parish needs to be in the sewer business when there are no plans to assist any other areas of Natchitoches Parish except Payne Subdivision. We can’t maintain our roads as it is, much less adopt and maintain a known failing sewer system. Per an email that Mr. Nowlin sent to two Council members behind my back that I am in receipt of, he stated that due to the Louisiana Community Block Grant relative to the Payne Sewer System, there is approximately $100,000 for engineering fees that the Parish may be responsible for. These debts were incurred without the knowledge or approval of the Council.
The third reason is if we were to approve the amendment to the 2019 operating budget, we would justify the illegal and immoral unauthorized expenditures that Mr. Nowlin and the Administration committed without the knowledge and approval of the Council. As it is, without this, the Louisiana Legislative Auditors will be required to audit the Natchitoches Parish Government because the budget will not balance on December 31, 2019.
The fourth reason is the meetings were called in violation of the Louisiana Open Meetings laws. In Louisiana Revised Statute 42.1-42.13, and the Natchitoches Parish Home Rule Charter Section 2-06 special meetings shall be held on the call of the Parish President, the Chair, or presiding officer of the Council. Notice of special meetings shall comply with state law. To meet a public emergency affecting life, health, property, or public safety, the Council may meet on the call of the president. This is also supported by Louisiana Attorney General Opinion 08-0129. The Council Chairman, Mr. Rodney Bedgood advised that he never received an agenda nor authorized the Special Meeting. These meetings were called by the Parish President, Mr. Rick Nowlin. These meetings were not called due to an emergency, but for the apparent reasons of covering improprieties and poor decisions.