Even though an ongoing lawsuit has kept Neal Clulee from serving as St. Charles Parish’s representative on the New Orleans Aviation Board, the Luling businessman said his investigation into the board’s finances has already secured $740,000 for the parish.
Clulee’s appointment to the airport board was first blocked by the New Orleans City Council, which failed to approve him in a 3-3 tie. When the St. Charles Parish Council once again nominated Clulee to the post, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu filed suit asking a judge to declare that he has sole appointing powers to the aviation board. However, Parish Council members continue to insist that a 1985 agreement gives them the power to appoint a representative.
Clulee told the council Monday that he is more determined than ever to represent the parish on the aviation board and that he has already attended board meetings and made public records request into the board’s finances.
Clulee said he learned that St. Charles was not receiving its fair share of sales and use taxes from a 1985 agreement that allowed an extension of the Louis Armstrong International Airport into the parish. According to the agreement, the parish is supposed to receive 15.5 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by the airport.
Clulee said he made a public records request to verify the information, and that shortly after doing so the city of Kenner sent St. Charles Parish a check for more than $740,000.
St. Charles Parish spokeswoman Renee Simpson confirmed that Kenner sent the parish a check for $740,079.59. The check is supposed to cover four years of back taxes. However, Simpson said the parish has been aware of the issue since 2009.
"Our Finance Department had been aware of the issue surrounding the payment amounts since 2009 and had been working with Kenner and Jefferson Parish to rectify the situation, so it was not a new issue," Simpson said.
Parish officials also have concerns with the amount of money they received.
"The problem we are having is that we are not confident that either years’ amount is correct, including the current year, thus we are working with Kenner to determine the correct amounts we are owed," she said.
The Parish Council has set aside $100,000 to help special legal counsel Timothy Marcel fight Landrieu’s suit over the parish’s airport board appointment. They made the move over the objection of Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, who said the parish’s current legal counsel, Leon "Sunny" Vial, makes that amount of money for a year of service while the council will pay Marcel $100,000 to deal with only one lawsuit.
However, Councilman Dennis Nuss said the lawsuit is one of the most important cases that the parish has dealt with in years. He added that the full $100,000 may not need to be spent.