Tempers flare at council meeting

Alderman Vernon ‘Step’ Martin resigns

Part one of a two part series.

CROWLEY - If the past three city council meetings Revenue and Finance report was to be compared to a fight card, Tuesday evening was definitely the main event.
In what had been building up for the past few months, and in a chamber full of policemen and firemen, it was the Crowley Main St. representatives (President Raynell Gilder, La. Main St. President Ray Scriber and Dr. Ezora Proctor among others)who approached the council one at a time to plead with them not to eliminate their positions. Though the loss of the jobs was deemed inevitable by the majority of the council, Alderman Vernon ‘Step’ Martin held firm in his defense of the Crowley Main St. Association which had it’s department deleted and it’s manager, Rita Johnson, laid off pending public hearings next month.
“Last week I asked the council to take a gamble and consider using money from the general fund to help save these people’s jobs,” said Martin. “I’ve been here for 12 years and somebody threw me under the bus in the paper (Crowley Post-Signal’s Public Forum) last week. Our city has grown tremendously and I cannot get the truth about what’s going on.”
“I will be resigning from the council,” he said to those in attendance. “You look at these other cities around us and how they’ve handled their situations and it upsets me that we cannot work together. And not one time did I hear anyone on this council say that things would get this bad that people would be losing their jobs.”
Alderwoman Kitty Valdetero shot back firmly.
“Opelousas is two million dollars in debt and they had to close a fire department,” she said. “For the last two years when I served as Revenue and Finance chairperson I kept mentioning that we had been spending too much.”
Alderman Jeff Dore agreed with Valdetero.
“Kitty kept saying the money is not going to hold up,” said Dore. “She said it at every stinking meeting for...”
At that point Martin interrupted to say something and was told by Dore to “shut his mouth while I’m speaking.”
“Don’t you ever tell me to shut my mouth,” replied Martin loudly.
At this point Crowley Mayor Greg Jones intervened.
“Each and every person in here has to always watch how you represent your office,” he stated loudly.
Martin settled down and Dore continued.
“We went from a $19 million income to a $15 million income and it’s simple math,” he said. “I’m not going to promise these people in here something I can’t give them.”
Mayor Jones spoke next.
“I said two years ago that the general fund would go down as tax revenue went down,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy making this budget and I’m extremely upset about the situation we’re in.”
“I feel responsible for my 140 employees but I also feel responsibility towards the 13,000 citizens of Crowley,” he added.
Elliot Dore, chairman of the Revenue and Finance Committee then spoke.
“Expenses put us in this direction,” said Dore. “I’ve run a company and I’ve had to let go some good people. There’s a difference between firing somebody and laying someone off. These people will get a good recommendation from the the mayor and, in time, things will improve.”
“From my standpoint as chairman of this committee we are dipping another $350,000 from the general fund to save the jobs of some public safety employees,” added Dore.
“We voted to give raises to police and firemen,” said Alderman Lyle Fogleman. “They raised the minimum raise nationwide. If anyone knows where there’s a money tree we can go outside and shake please tell us because we would love to know where it is.”
In the paperwork handed out by City Clerk Judy Istre, the numbers for the revenue of the Main St. Association did show a major loss. The sheet showed that the department brought in $13,525 and had expenditures of $66,225. This totalled out to a deficiency of $52,700.
Jones compared the city’s situation to when Capitol Manufacturing, a large business in Crowley had hard times during the 80’s and had to layoff 75 percent of their workers.
“Now they are back running strong as ever,” he replied. “They just did what they had to do to survive the hard times.”
One woman approached the council with the idea of implementing a four day work week or possibly cutting hours from 40 to 35 for full-time employees.
“The state, Lafayette and other cities are doing it,” she replied.
“We’ve considered that,” replied Jones. “We have no control over this. If we did that then our employees would lose their retirement and benefits.”
“Well I’d sure like to have one of your cushy jobs and your salaries,” added the woman who the Post-Signal was unable to identify. “You people have nothing to worry about do you?”
An obviously angry Valdetero replied “this is not a cushy job. We have been answering phone calls all week and none of us has slept well while all this has been going on. You should try to live in our houses.”
“I don’t want to live in your house I have my own house,” replied the woman.
“Why should I try to talk to you if you won’t listen,” replied Valdetero
When the meeting finally adjourned Martin was asked if was going to stand by what he said and resign. He replied ‘yes’ but was being consoled by Dore who spoke some words to him in private.
The Crowley Post-Signal will have much more on the council meeting in our Thursday edition including a woman who approached the council about being billed for the condemnation of a home that was burned down by an arsonist and Rayne Mayor Jimbo Petitjean discussing his run for Acadia Parish Assessor.

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