City attorney: Vote followed charter guidelines

Mayor Freddie DeCourt’s tiebreaking vote Tuesday to affirm his nomination of Nicole Burke as city prosecutor followed the New Iberia home rule charter’s guidelines for such an occurrence, city attorney Jeff Simon said Thursday.

After some controversy surrounding Tuesday night’s appointment of a new New Iberia prosecutor, the city attorney released an opinion Thursday clarifying the vote.

Nicole Burke was appointed city prosecutor during the meeting after Mayor Freddie DeCourt broke a 3-3 tie vote in Burke’s favor.

Burke’s involvement in the recusal motions filed by the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office against Judge Lori Landry in 2019 was an issue for some residents. The council meeting room was filled with local residents protesting Burke’s appointment for what they saw as a concerted attempt to remove Landry from her seat on the bench.

After the vote was made, some questioned whether DeCourt’s deciding vote was legal.

DeCourt said Thursday that he asked City Attorney Jeff Simon for a legal opinion regarding the tiebreaker decision and its compliance with the home rule charter that New Iberia governs by.

“I stand by the decision,” DeCourt said Thursday. “We have a process, we followed the process and we checked before the appointment was made.”

According to the opinion letter, a former New Iberia city councilman questioned the vote by citing the city’s legislative charter. However, Simon said the home rule charter, not the legislative charter, governs city meetings.

“The former city councilman has questioned whether or not the mayor could vote on the issue, and he has cited Section 14 of the City’s Legislative Charter,” Simon’s opinion said. “I don’t agree with his reading of Section 14 of the Legislative Charter but that is irrelevant here. The Legislative Charter was replaced over 10 years ago and no longer governs our meetings.”

Simon went on to say that the current charter provides that heads of departments, including the city prosecutor, are appointed by the mayor and subject to confirmation by the council.

“It provides, in part, that ‘The mayor shall not vote except in the event of a tie.’ That means that if there is a tie, the Mayor may vote. He or she breaks the tie. IF the result is four votes in favor, then the action is approved,” according to the opinion.

There was also concern that the charter stated the mayor could only break a tie in regards to a resolution or ordinance, and not appointments.

Simon’s letter said that under Section 2-10 of the charter every action voted on by the council is either an ordinance or a resolution, but even if it were some other kind of vote it would still be governed by the charter’s rules for a mayoral tiebreaker.

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