Blight raises council, public ire
Momentum continues to grow with public outrage on addressing the blight problem that the city currently is facing, as evidenced by several outbursts during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Crowley City Council.
Blight has been a hot topic at several recent Council meetings. It was noted in the minutes of last week’s committee meetings that Mayor Tim Monceaux said, “There are many things that were not done in the past, but we are moving forward and coming up with new programs and trying to get them implemented to deal with the backlog of houses that need to be demolished. The cost for condemning and demolishing the 80 plus houses (on the city’s current list) is over $450,000 that the city does not have.”
Members of the Council have made it clear that they are in full support of hiring assistance for City Inspector Tony Duhon to help him with managing the backlog. During recent committee meetings, the mayor said he has considered help for Duhon and is working on the best way to help him.
The Council made it abundantly clear at this week’s meeting that they support hiring help for Duhon and pointed out that there are pre-existing positions in the budget for help for the city inspector.
Speaking on behalf of the Acadia Parish Chamber of Commerce, Danny Nugier, chairman of the board of directors, said, “After several meetings and discussions about quality of life, the chamber is hoping to continue pressing forward in working toward resolving blighted properties.”
He then noted that he has spoken to the mayor of Church Point, who is facing similar problems and has begun the process of demolishing blighted properties. Nugier went on to explain that after the town of Church Point has completed the legal process required for condemnation, the town employees are using town equipment to complete that demolition process.
Lastly, he reiterated the Chamber’s desire to “see it continued, to help clean it up, and just move forward.” He offered any assistance that the Chamber can give.
Ricky Robinson, a Crowley resident, expressed his concern over the blighted property next to his house resulting from a fire that occurred on Feb. 24, 2018. Then Robinson explained that, further complicating things, the homeowner has since died.
He said he had contacted a Council member, but the blighted property still stands. Robinson said the property is now being occupied by various wild animals such as raccoons, rats and cats.
Monceaux told Robinson that a demo permit has been purchased on that specific property.
Stringfellow noted that she had turned in the blighted property from Robinson as soon as she received the information.
Moving away from the blight topic briefly, the council handled regular housekeeping items such as approval of minutes and acceptance of the Mayor’s Report, which noted a sales tax decrease due to a particular tax that was paid prior to this month. The sewer user fee, according to Monceaux, has suffered a moderate decrease of 2.25.
He also reported that the budget analysis shows the city to be slightly under budget at 68.30 percent, while it was estimated to be at 74.97 percent at this time of year.
It was during the Public Safety standing committee report that the blighted property fuse was lit again.
Alderman Brad Core’s report included references to the two constituents who had earlier spoken about concerns over blighted properties in their neighborhood as well as the 81 blighted properties on the “active list” which require the owner to fix or demolish the property.
At the conclusion of the report, Core said, “One point, although there was no action items on the agenda today, there was significant discussion concerning blighted properties that are adversely impacting our city and its residents. We are recommending that the mayor begin enforcing existing ordinances to combat blighted properties and we are in full support of having the mayor implement immediate action.”
He also commended Police Chief Jimmy Broussard for advising the council that the police department can issue citations on blighted properties that are a public hazard, due to a state statute.
Aldermen Vernon “Step” Martin voiced his concerns that 61 out of the 81 listed properties are in his district. Referencing Robinson, who earlier in the meeting spoke to the council over the blighted property next door to his residence, Martin asked about the “demo permit” that the mayor reported to Robinson.
Robinson interjected from the audience, “The issue to my property is the building next door that is burned out. Living in the building are raccoons and cats and God knows what else. As I heard from the mayor, the permit for demolition has been issued.”
Monceaux confirmed the issuance of a demo permit.
Robinson continued, “They are not trying to get rid of the rats and the cats, they are trying to get rid of the building.”
Martin said he feels the problem will not be solved because the city needs to start from the bottom of the list and work its way up. He noted that blighted properties on that list date back to 2014.
Then he revisited the previous discussion about Church Point’s successful action to resolve the blight issue in that city. Martin encouraged the council to make dealing with blight a first priority and, “for the public safety of the city of Crowley … make a strictly enforced plan to deal with blight around the town.”
Stringfellow said such resolve has been in place for months.
“I just want to say that myself and Aldermen Cradeur did meet with the mayor and Tom (Regan, city attorney) ... in February to get a plan going on blighted properties and we were basically shut down. I just wanted the record to show that we did try to get a plan and this is where we are.”
Monceaux thanked Stringfellow for her comments and redirected the meeting back to Core, explaining that public safety is his committee’s mandate and asked if he was done with his report, adding that he wanted to get back to the agenda.
Martin claimed “point of order,” saying that the council was following the agenda for Public Safety.
Monceaux replied, “Yes, sir, we are on the agenda of Public Safety and Mr. Core reported his agenda.”
But Martin persisted, “Mayor, all this is germane to what we have right here. This is germane.”
Monceaux argued, “Mr. Martin this is a discussion you are trying to create. We are following the agenda. Mr. Core has his agenda and he is getting ready to recess his agenda on his committee.”
Martin asked if the mayor was saying he did not have the right to discuss the committee report.
That’s when the audience erupted. “Yes, he is (stopping discussion),” and “Good job, Kim,” could be heard from the gallery.
Monceaux explained that Martin wanted to take action and that the council could not take action at that time.
Martin asked the mayor why, when his colleagues (Stringfellow and Cradeur) went to discuss a plan for blight, that they were “shut down.”
Monceaux asked Martin visit his office to discuss this issue
“Why does everything have to go to your office?” Martin replied. “Why can’t we discuss it in front of the citizens?”
The audience again erupted, cheering and clapping very loudly.
Martin continued, “Enough of this. You just shut down, so basically what you are telling me is this thing would have never been solved. I am glad [Stringfellow] used the ‘shut down.’”
The council continued to ask why discussion was being stopped during regular session meetings when committee reports say there will be an update on an item.
The council and the mayor eventually agreed to get together and work on a plan to fight the blight.