Following a near two-year fight over recovering $150,000 for dumpsters provided to residents at no charge to remove blighted property, St. Charles Parish Councilman Paul Hogan has filed a lawsuit against Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. to force him to make a “reasonable effort” at getting the money or pay it himself.
“I filed a lawsuit to have a court advise whether it was reasonable or not as a taxpayer who was personally injured by the misuse of these public funds,” said Hogan, who filed the suit as an individual on Dec. 15 in the 29th Judicial District Court in Hahnville.
Hogan alleges the parish government failed to make a “reasonable attempt” to recover the money from the parish’s former Blight Elimination Program. A June 2014 Attorney General opinion affirms this effort should have been made, but officials differ over whether it occurred.
Hogan maintained the effort wasn’t sufficiently made to collect.
The lawsuit also alleges St. Pierre created and implemented the program “without having the authority to do so and in lieu of following the parish’s ordinances related to addressing blight, provided dumpsters, which the parish had provided to homeowners at taxpayer’s expense.”
Although Hogan said his only motive for the suit is to recover “illegally” spent tax dollars, he also accused St. Pierre of stalling and even attempting to derail his efforts to remove the sunken vessel Pretty Boy in Lac Des Allemands in retaliation for persisting with efforts to recover dumpster costs.
According to Hogan, “The parish president’s decision and efforts to not pick up the sunken vessel was in retaliation to my addressing the misuse of public funds associated with the dumpsters.”
St. Pierre declined to comment at this time.
According to Hogan, as long as he pressed to act on the dumpster issue the “boat was not going to be picked up.”However, at the Dec. 14 Parish Council meeting, an amendment was approved reallocating the $30,000 for the project to the 2016 budget, which Hogan confirmed assures removal of the vessel next year under a new council and administration.
Parish Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe called Hogan’s lawsuit “another step in Paul trying to get an answer that he likes.”
Boe said they are meeting with legal counsel this week about the lawsuit.
But he also said the parish has made more than reasonable effort to collect the dumpster costs at an expense likely to exceed the $150,000 being sought.
“Citizen Hogan filed the suit, but this has been dealt with multiple times over the past two years,” he said.
Boe said 143 certified letters were mailed in March advising these residents to contact the parish Planning and Zoning Department to determine amount owed, ranging from $450 to $14,500 depending project size and vendors. However, he also said the letters stated the parish had no legal authority to force payment and no monies have been paid.
Hogan received one of them while campaigning for the at-large District B seat on the council, which he won. He said it was a form letter sent to anyone who requested a demolition permit during the time of the blight program (November 2009 to February 2014). He said he got the letter although he rented his dumpsters.
Hogan also confirmed Boe apologized for his name being incorrectly on the list of letter recipients.
St. Charles Parish Attorney General Joel Chaisson said his office reviewed Hogan’s concerns about the blight program and determined no charges are warranted against the parish government.
“This is due to the fact that the parish administration has taken steps to comply with the Attorney General’s opinion,” Chaisson said. “Whether those steps are reasonable or not is a matter of obviously conflicting opinions between the parties and they have not been able to agree on a reasonable resolution of this matter.”
Hogan said he would prefer the parish president opt to make a “reasonable effort” to collect dumpster costs rather than go to court.