ST. MARTINVILLE — The running battle between Mayor Melinda Mitchell and members of the city council heated up Wednesday when District 1 Councilman Mike Fuselier fired off an email asking why the council had not been informed of a town hall being held at the city’s Festival Grounds for Saturday afternoon.
Additionally, one of the replies to the email indicated that a city hall employee was tasked with taking the flyers, which had been intended for mailing, out of their envelopes and post them around town during working hours.
“The envelopes were not stamped,” said Chief Administrative Officer Avis Gutekunst when asked if the city was paying for postage for what council members said is a private political event. “It was decided that there was not enough time to mail them.
A call to Mitchell Wednesday afternoon has not yet been returned. In an email from Council Executive Assistant Lorrie Poirier shortly after 4 p.m., however, the council was informed of the town hall.
“Mayor Mitchell asked that I inform that the Town Hall meeting will go on at the Festival Grounds,” Poirier wrote.
The council generally approves all events to be held on city property after a request from the sponsor. At its meeting last week, for example, the council approved a request from 16th Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé to use the Festival Grounds for a political event.
Mitchell announced last month that she would be holding a town hall meeting after the council approved amendments to the city charter to pay the mayor on a part-time basis starting at the beginning of the next term. At the time, she did not set a location.
The text of the flyer reads: “Please join Mayor Melinda Mitchell and other local and regional community leaders as they share information concerning our community and current charter.”
In his letter, the first in a chain of responses that bounced among council and administration officials Wednesday afternoon, Fuselier also raised questions about the purpose of the meeting and how it was being promoted, namely whether or not city employees and funds were used.
“How can the governing board of the city, the council, be completely be bypassed if we are going to be discussing the city of St. Martinville?” Fuselier asked. “Who are these local and regional ‘leaders’ that will speak and why (have) elected council members been left in the dark?”
Mitchell held a similar town hall event earlier this summer after she claimed to have been left in the dark about proposed rate hikes for the city’s utilities, specifically its water production division. At that meeting, held in Adam Carlson Park, she presented her proposal that the city reject its home rule charter and bring the city government under the state’s Lawrason Act, which would greatly expand her power as mayor.
Mitchell has pitched multiple times, both in private and public. After the third attempt was voted down in the city council, the council passed a resolution not to bring the issue up again during this term.
The council also instructed City Legal Counsel Allan Durand to seek clarification from the 16th Judicial District Court to determine whether or not Mitchell had veto power under the city’s special legislative charter. Mitchell said she would veto the proposed amendments to the charter, but Durand informed her that the charter does not give the mayor that authority.
That writ, filed last week, is pending a response from 16th JDC Judge Gregory Aucoin.
Two members of the council, District 4 Councilman Juma Johnson and District 5 Councilman Edmond Joseph, also chimed in.
“Aren't we all in favor of having our constituents informed of the steps being taken and the process of moving the city forward?” Johnson asked. “Everyone is invited so how is this a private event?”
Fuselier responded that it was a political event to further Mitchell’s goals, not the city as a whole.
“This is not about ‘steps to move the city forward,’” Fuselier replied. “This is ONE MORE attempt by the mayor to change our city government by bypassing the council. The council has made it clear that this is settled as long as the current council is in office.”
Fuselier also noted that if the mayor and two council members meet to discuss issues at the event without meeting notification requirements, it could violate the state’s open meeting laws.