Stevens resigns as Parish Council chair; Matt Jewell elected
Rather than face a challenge to his chairmanship, Parish Council Chair Eugene P. Stevens Jr. of Plaquemine last week resigned his position.
The council then voted 10-3 to elect Councilman Matthew H. “Matt” Jewell of Maringouin to replace Stevens in the panel's top job. Councilman Warren “T-Notchie” Taylor of White Castle will continue as vice chairman.
Stevens had been the only chairman since the Home Rule Charter that took effect in October 1997 created the council.
After hearing from several members that there was talk of “reorganizing” the council, the parlance for electing new officers, Stevens said he chose, with some reluctance, to resign instead.
“It's time for the legislative branch of parish government to be progressive and to offer checks and balances to the powers of the executive branch,” Stevens told the council. “I intend to do just that.”
Some members reportedly were unhappy at having little communication from Stevens about council business.
Jewell said a group had approached him four days before the meeting to ask him if he would accept the chairmanship.
“I want unity,” Jewell told the council. He said he wanted to make sure the needs of the council member's constituents were represented to the administration, and to move the council forward in dealing with major issues such as the administering $44 million-plus in hurricane recovery money and getting the local hospital reopened.
Jewell said he wanted to “be visible” in the community by making himself available to speak to local groups.
After Stevens' resignation, Councilman Salaris Butler of Seymourville asked to postpone electing a new president until the council's May meeting, but yielded to a substitute motion from Councilman Edwin M. Reeves Jr. of Plaquemine to open nominations.
Councilmen Louis “Pete” Kelley Jr. and Terry R. Bradford, both of Plaquemine, nominated Jewell.
Councilman Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine nominated Butler, but Butler declined.
In the vote on Jewell, Butler, Oubre and Councilman Leonard “Buck” Jackson of St. Gabriel cast the “no” votes.
“I have a lot of confidence in you. I'm sorry you resigned,” Jackson told Stevens. Jackson had served as vice chairman until two years ago when Taylor was elected to replace him. “Some people up here, we don't stand a chance.”
Oubre and Butler suggested Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr.'s involvement in Jewell's selection.
“I see politics going on here,” Butler said. “Now we have an executive branch of government that has pretty much consumed the legislative branch.”
Oubre cited Jewell's role in the firing of Council on Aging (COA) Director Tommy Gordon last year.
“Here we come back again with some political issues,” Oubre said. “Soon after Tommy Gordon was fired, Matt became president of COA, and Mitchell Ourso became head of the COA...So, here we go again.”
Jewell, who will remain COA chair through September, said later that Finance Director Randall W. Dunn had stepped in to “clean up the financial mess” at the agency. The COA board fired Gordon because Gordon refused to fire his sister as an assistant bookkeeper, despite an apparent violation of the state ethics law against nepotism that could have jeopardized funding.
“We have elderly people who depend on that [agency] for a hot meal and programs,” Jewell said. “...It's viable only if the parish takes over.”
“I have no response to the councilmen's issue on this,” Ourso said as he took the floor to give his monthly president's report.
Ourso thanked Stevens for his service as council chair, saying the two men had grown up together and have been friends.
“I have no animosity against you,” he told Stevens. “I appreciate your leadership...I'm sorry the way it happened.”
As the meeting opened, Stevens read a prepared statement that read in part:
“I have had an opportunity to discuss this with several members and have made a decision to step down as council chairman.
“I do this with some reluctance because I was looking forward to finishing my term and the first and only council chairman to serve since we formed our parish council form of government.
“But, I serve at the pleasure of the majority of this elected council just as I serve at the pleasure of the people of District 8 that elected me. With the issues facing our parish, I do not intent to be a distraction from the good work that we as a council have done, or the work that needs to be accomplished in the future...
I want to thank you for the honor of serving as your chairman for the past 12 years, and look forward to working with the council, the chairman, as well as the administration in the future.”
After the meeting, Stevens told the POST/SOUTH that “I think there needs to be a change.” He added, “I'm not saying I'm not going to run again.”
One of the items of business last week was the council's promulgation of the results of the March 27 election at which voters repealed the three-term limits on the parish president and council members. Otherwise, Stevens (along with four other councilmen) would have reached his limit of three consecutive terms, and would have been able to run again in 2011.