New adjudicated land ordinance approved

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 18, 2016

By Jesse Wright

The Daily News

After weeks of debate, the Bogalusa city council voted on Tuesday to renew its contract with CivicSource and amend the city laws on adjudicated property.

Councilman Teddy Drummond had introduced the change to the municipal code in February. The code change brought city laws concerning tax distressed properties in line with other municipalities in the state and in particular set forth a clear way for empty, tax distressed lots to be claimed and cleaned by neighbors in exchange for ownership. The change to the law was also intended to make it easier for buyers to purchase empty lots through CivicSource, a private company that handles tax-distressed properties for cities across the state.

However, Drummond tabled the motion after citizens and members of the council complained that CivicSource was charging far in excess of the properties’ value. Bryan Barrios, the chief executive officer for CivicSource, addressed the council earlier this month and explained the extra fees paid for a clear title and title insurance, which meant that property buyers could get a mortgage for the properties once they purchased them. Barrios said his company had already sold seven properties, but it needed the city to change its codes before the sales could be finalized. If the city council didn’t approve those changes, Barrios worried the properties would not be sold.

“We wouldn’t be able to complete the sale,” Barrios said at the March 1 meeting. “Therefore, the consumer would have to get their money back. That becomes an interesting situation because we’ve borne all the cost on all of this, and frankly the deposit only covers a fraction of it.”

Tuesday, Drummond moved to reintroduce the motion. The council members approved that motion besides councilwoman Gloria Kates, who voted against reintroducing it. After it was re-introduced, Kates said she thought her single opposition vote would overrule the majority.

“I need some guidance on our voting protocol,” Kates said. “From what I understand, If there is a motion to amend an ordinance and there’s one nay, then those majority votes don’t go forward?”

Mayor Wendy Perrette said, “You’re incorrect on that. The majority rules.”

This was not the end of the confusion. Patricia Keller, a citizen, asked the council exactly how the new contract would differ from the ordinance.

“My question is, what’s the difference between the contract that we now have and this ordinance that’s been brought up,” Keller asked.

“I don’t have an answer for that,” board president Sherry Fortenberry said.

Vice-president Tamira Smith said the new contract is necessary because it is a renewal of the city’s contract. The law is changing, Perrette explained, based on the recommendation from the Louisiana Municipal League and the mayor went on to explain that the new ordinance will allow CivicSource to provide a service — selling tax distressed properties with a clear title — that the city cannot provide.

“This is a way to do it legally and without cost to the city,” she said. “We are not able, we’re stretched this enough, and we don’t have the professionals or the knowledge of the laws to carry a person through the legal process.”

The board voted to approve the new contract and update the ordinance. Kates opposed the motion, but the other members approved it. Councilman Brian McCree was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

During public comments, Gretchen Graham spoke, and said she was disappointed that some people were harassing Red Cross volunteers as they handed out meals in Poplas Quarters on Monday.

“Yesterday I was never so hurt and angry with the situation that went down,” she said.

Graham did not name anyone, but she said police were called after two members of the city council got into an argument over aid distribution.

Later in the meeting, Fortenberry said she was not the one who called the police.

“If you can tell me the name of a council person who called a policeman, then that person will not sit on this council,” she said. “It wasn’t me, if that’s who you think it was.”

Later in the meeting, Fate Ferrell complained of gang activity in the city.

“I would like to know why is gang banging still going on in Bogalusa when we just had all this water come up in here? It don’t make any sense,” he said. “The citizens need to grow up and help clean up Bogalusa. It’s time for all this foolishness to end.”

At the meeting’s close, Kates announced that Ebenezer Baptist Church is giving away clothing. She added that the District A Easter egg hunt is on Good Friday, March 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bailey Park.

Perrette pointed out that a city Easter egg hunt will be the next day, Saturday, March 26 and she would prefer to have a single, city-wide Easter egg hunt. Kates said she understood that, but did not cancel the District A hunt.

Kates said her district-wide cleanup will be March 26, the same day as the city’s Easter egg hunt.

At the end of the meeting, councilman Doug Ritchie reminded everyone to attend the town hall meeting next Tuesday, March 22 at 5:30 p.m.