St. Charles Parish’s ongoing saga concerning its long vacant seat on the New Orleans Aviation Board has entered a new chapter with an interim nomination by the Parish Council this week.
The St. Charles Parish Council unanimously nominated Gary Smith Sr. as an interim appointment to the New Orleans Aviation Board seat last held by his father, Henry Smith Jr. Harry Smith Jr. served on the Aviation Board for more than 25 years before his death in September 2011.
Smith is the CEO of Magnolia Holdings Inc., which operates 23 companies out of its headquarters on Airline Highway in St. Rose.
The parish hasn’t had a representative on the board for more than two years.
The Parish Council originally nominated Luling businessman Neal Clulee to the position in the latter half of 2011. However, Clulee’s nomination has faced a number of obstacles, including a veto by Parish President V.J. St. Pierre that was overridden by the Parish Council.
Clulee’s appointment was also held up after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested the council send him three names to choose from, claiming he had sole appointing authority under a 1985 contract between the City of New Orleans and St. Charles Parish. The New Orleans City Council later voted down one attempt to circumvent Landrieu’s rejection of Clulee as the appointee and tied in another vote on the matter.
The dispute led to an ongoing lawsuit between St. Charles Parish and the City of New Orleans about the terms of the airport contract. In addition, Clulee filed a lawsuit of his own for defamation against St. Pierre.
St. Charles Parish Councilman Terrell Wilson said the Parish Council has more essential matters at hand and doesn’t need to be embroiled in an inter-governmental dispute.
“Right now we have important things on our plate, like trying to get flood protection,” he said.
Wilson said the nomination was needed in anticipation of upcoming projects planned at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
“I’ve been in office for two years and (Harry) Smith died maybe four months before I got into office, so we’ve been without representation for about 28 to 29 months. It was time for us to get a representative,” he said. “A lot of money is about to be spent at the airport.”
At this time it is unclear if Landrieu will accept Smith’s nomination, but Wilson said he thinks Smith’s nomination will pass.
“His daddy was our Aviation Board rep that dates back to when Ernest M. Morial was in office in New Orleans. So there has been some problems between the existing nominee that was submitted prior to me getting into office and Mayor Mitch Landrieu going back and forth challenging the agreement that the parish entered into with the city in 1985,” Wilson said. “I would hope that Mayor Mitch Landrieu shouldn’t have any problem. He didn’t have any problem with his dad. He shouldn’t have any problem with his son.”