City Council holds two meetings Monday night

Published 8:53 pm Monday, April 22, 2024

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On Monday, April 22, the Bogalusa City Council held a special call meeting to appoint a temporary representative to replace Councilwoman Danielle Keys after her passing. Every seat in the chamber was full, in addition to approximately 50 people in the lobby outside. Media representatives from WDSU and WWLTV were also in attendance.

5 candidates were initially on the ballot. One was not in attendance, and two others yielded their bid for the seat to hopeful Marilyn Lott. The final vote came down to Lott and Michael O’Ree, and O’Ree was elected with a 5-to-1 vote by the city council. Public support seemed to be in favor of Lott, with over ten citizens standing up to offer their verbal support to her before the council voted.

O’Ree immediately took his place at the council table and will serve until an official election can be held in November, where he will not be eligible to run due to his temporary service. O’Ree was a close friend and colleague of Ms. Keys, and says that he plans to continue her legacy of honesty and transparency during his time in office. O’Ree is a former 2-term council member and acting mayor, and an active volunteer in the community as well as pastor.

The mayor’s office followed that meeting with one of their own to clarify the budget situation and inform the public of his decision to veto last week’s spending freeze amendment. The council acknowledged the veto without a vote to overturn, despite the mayor’s failure to comply with the city charter’s requirements for doing so. A representative from the Louisiana Legislative Auditors Board was in attendance to answer questions and offer guidance.

The citizens of Bogalusa took turns at the podium, mostly in support of the mayor and his proposed 2024 budget. Some brought signs that implored the council to lift the spending freeze. They spoke with passion of their desire for the council to work with the mayor and his administration to pass the proposed budget and get Bogalusa moving forward. Things became heated at times, and at least one citizen was escorted to the door for using profanity.

One citizen suggested that the mayor and city council be locked in a room together until a resolution could be met.

A few citizens voiced their support for the council, citing the lack of beginning and ending fund balances as their main concern. Supporters of the mayor shouted over them and made it clear that they were not interested in hearing the opposing viewpoints and questions being offered.

When asked specifically whether a budget without fund balances could be passed, the auditor’s board clarified that Louisiana law only requires that revenues and expenditures be balanced. She could not comment on whether this satisfied the city charter as she was not familiar with it, but added that the council had the power to stop a budget that they were not comfortable with.

A few citizens pressed the mayor’s office on whether or not all documentation from the fiscal year 2022 close-out had been given to their advising firm, Eisner Ampner. The mayor clarified that while at one point things were missing, his administration had worked diligently to recover the necessary data and documents to complete an audit.

The city comptroller later added that two minor files were still missing, and that they were expected to be turned in by Thursday, April 25. He also said that he expects Eisner Ampner to complete their work within two weeks and hand the file over to Carr, Riggs, and Ingram for an audit. He expects this audit to take 4-6 weeks, at which point the audit can be reviewed by the state to get the city back in compliance.

When asked whether or not the completion of the 2022 audit would remove the city from the non-compliance list, the Louisiana Auditors representative said that it would immediately ameliorate the non-compliance status. She added that the 2023 audit is due in June, and failure to have it prepared by that deadline would move the city back onto the non-compliance list.

Councilwoman Gloria Kates, who authored the amendment to freeze the budget, said during the meeting that as long the Louisiana Auditors Board was okay with passing a budget, that she would not stand in the way of doing so. She asked directly if the council would be in violation of the law by passing a budget without fund balances, and the Louisiana Auditors representative stated that they would not, but could be in violation of the city charter.

Despite a packed and hectic meeting, the attendees of the meeting seemed thankful for the presence of a representative from the Louisiana Auditors Board and resolved to move forward with the proposed 2024 budget. Mayor Truong thanked both citizens and council for their decorum, and closed the meeting by stating that “Change is uncomfortable but necessary. Let’s keep the community in our prayers and work on moving forward.”