FIRST IN PRINT: Counting down: CICCI's future might be decided in 90 days

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter
COMPLAINTS ABOUT CICCI...This photo of the Central Iberville Community Center Inc. (CICCI) (old Seymourville School) are part of the investigation Iberville Parish Building Inspector Brian Romero launched after receiving complaints about the dilapidated buildings at 58405 Barrow Street and the use of the facility by vagrants. Parish Councilman Salaris Butler of Seymourville, whose mother is volunteer CICCI Executive Director Eva Butler, got the Parish Council to delay condemnation proceedings for 90 days.

The Central Iberville Community Center Inc. (CICCI) Board of Directors has 90 days to report to the Iberville Parish Council on its plans to rehabilitate damaged parts of the old Seymourville School it uses as its headquarters, but political sparks began flying shortly after action last week.

According to his report, Parish Building Inspector Brian Romero launched an investigation into the condition of the facility in November after receiving three anonymous complaints about the property at 58405 Barrow Street.

“The buildings at this location are structurally unsafe; the walls, roofs and floors of the building are rotten and in a serious state of disrepair,” Romero wrote CICCI Executive Director Eva Butler on November 30, asking her cooperation in removing the building within 30 days.

“In some of the classroom building[s], the roof is collapsed, trees are growing through the floors and the majority of the windows are missing,” he continued. “The condition of the buildings constitute a potential fire hazard; the area is strewn with wine bottles and beer cans and trash. There has been inadequate maintenance at the facility, and the facility is in a serious state of dilapidation and poses dangers to human life and public safety.”

At a condemnation hearing last week, Parish Council went along with the request of Councilman Salaris Butler of Seymourville asked the council to give CICCI 90 days to come up with a plan to rehabilitate or demolish the damaged parts of the facility. Butler is the son of CICCI's executive director, whom he said works without compensation.

Butler said the building inspector's report did not cover parts of the old school which are building used or which are being rehabilitated. He said he could not understand why the parish was trying to condemn the CICCI property, where all but two wings (representing about 25 percent of the 34,000-square-foot facility) are still in operation, while ignoring six other dilapidated buildings in his district.

“They only got complaints on this building in November, and there are six other buildings we have been trying to condemn for 10 years,” the councilman said.

“I think it's more political than anything,” Butler told the POST/SOUTH. “I know this is political season.”

“Look at the pictures,” responded Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr.. “They're making it political. Salaris has been fighting me since I became parish president. I’m going to do what I think is right for this parish. Right is right and wrong is wrong. They need to get the building cleaned up.”

Ourso said he has an obligation to provide for public safety and to clean up blight.

“He's not above the law,” the parish president said. “The building needs to be cleaned up and fixed up like any other structure in this parish. He better be real careful with these issues. It's not beyond e to see that he's following the ethics [rules].”

State ethics laws prohibit public officials from becoming involved with or voting on issues in which they or an immediate family member have a financial interest.

Butler said the Louisiana Board of Ethics had already ruled on the issue some time ago when he voted to give some money to CICCI.

“None of that grant money went to paying any salaries to my mother or anybody in my family,” he said, so it was allowable.

CICCI organized to operate the old school as a community center more than 19 years ago, Butler said. He said the organization first leased and then purchased the facility from the Iberville Parish School Board, which closed it during a consolidation and construction program in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Over time, CICCI had numerous grants to support its operations, but currently is operating only on contributions from the community and on the proceeds from fundraising events, Butler said.

Currently, he said, three groups are looking at rehabilitating parts of the old school – a group that wants to put in a skilled training facility, a group considering it as a recreation facility and a group considering it for adult day care services to the elderly of the area.

In a letter to Romero last week, Eva Butler asked for more time to seek grants and private partners to rehabilitate the “historical site.”

“This property is private property, and therefore only authorized people should be on the property,” she said. “We have taken all measures within our means to eliminate any hazards that these wings could present to the public. We are presently seeking grants and private contributions to rehabilitate or demolish the two wings that are in disrepair. The front wing, cafeteria, ear classrooms and gym are presently being used or rehabilitated.”