Parish settles lawsuit with New Orleans mayor

Suit has been ongoing since 2011 over Aviation Board nominee

Resolving a contentious legal battle dating back to 2011 between the St. Charles Parish Council and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu over the parish’s appointee to the New Orleans Aviation Board, council members unanimously accepted a settlement agreement.

“We think this is a fair agreement and we urge you to support this,” Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe said at Monday’s council meeting.

Boe advised the approval based on three benefits that came with the settlement.

Firstly, he said it maintains the original 1985 airport extension agreement, as well as preserves the parish’s tax share on airport property, which Boe said represents about $500,000 a year. The settlement agreement also clearly outlines the appointment process. The parish submits three nominees, which the mayor of New Orleans can decline to submit to the New Orleans City Council, but a name must be chosen from the second round of three nominees.

Gary Smith Sr. was named the parish’s interim appointee in January 2014, a seat he holds today and was held previously by his father, Henry Smith Jr., for more than 25 years before his death in September 2011. Gary Smith Sr. is president of Magnolia Holdings Inc., which operates 23 companies out of its headquarters on Airline Highway in St. Rose.

How the parish’s board representative was chosen became a major point of contention in 2011 when the council and Parish President V. J. St. Pierre Jr. differed over the appointment of Luling businessman Neal Clulee.

When St. Pierre vetoed Clulee’s appointment twice, the council overturned the move twice and then the City of New Orleans rejected Clulee in a 3-3 vote in September 2012.

When Landrieu requested three nominations, the council reaffirmed its selection of Clulee. The mayor fired back, filing suit asking a judge to declare he had sole appointing powers to the Aviation Board, but council members maintained the 1985 agreement gave them the power to appoint the representative.

Against St. Pierre’s wishes, the parish council set aside a $100,000 legal fund to help special legal counsel Timothy Marcel fight Landrieu’s suit. St. Pierre maintained the parish had never spent that much money on attorney fees on any previous lawsuit in the parish’s history.

The fight intensified when Clulee filed a defamation lawsuit against St. Pierre, alleging he spread malicious information to keep him from serving on the Aviation Board. St. Pierre would not comment on the suit at the time. But Councilman Paul Hogan said Clulee had a long history of filing lawsuits in the parish and that many of them were against the parish. At the time, Clulee was listed as a plaintiff in nine cases and as a defendant in 10 cases in the 29th Judicial District Court serving St. Charles Parish.

Then Councilman Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux also accused St. Pierre of politicking against Clulee. St. Pierre fired back that Clulee already had the parish’s sludge hauling contract and sat on the Planning and Zoning Board, but he should not be a member of a board he considered the “economic engine that drives New Orleans.”

The council disagreed and reaffirmed Clulee’s appointment.During the dispute, the parish had no board representation for more than two years and the fight waged on.

By July 2014, the parish council was found in violation of the open meetings law when it nominated Gary Smith Sr. to the Aviation Board. The violation resulted from Clulee’s lawsuit alleging the council had violated several state laws on parliamentary procedure when it nominated Smith. After viewing video of the council meeting, Judge Michelle Morel sided with Clulee, affirming the council did not properly identify the ordinance on Smith’s nomination, a violation of the open meetings law. Morel also maintained the violation wasn’t intentional so there was no fine, but Clulee’s lawsuit sought to have Smith removed from the board.The council rescinded Smith’s nomination, but the New Orleans City Council had already approved it so Smith stayed on the board.

The action came months after the announcement of an $826 million new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport that would be built just north of the current terminal.

With completion expected by 2018, the project includes a state-of-the-art, 650,000 square-foot airport terminal with two concourses, 30 gates, a consolidated checkpoint and 2,000 parking spaces. Mayor Landrieu projected the terminal construction could result in $1.7 billion economic impact, including up to 13,000 construction jobs, during the development phase. Additionally, the New Orleans Aviation Board announced plans to revitalize areas surrounding the airport, including along Airline Highway in St. Rose.

Landrieu has called the new addition “the most transformative project for New Orleans since the Superdome.”


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