LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - A lawsuit against the Port of Lake Charles has been filed by three former presidents: Walt Sanchez, Wade Shaddock, and John LeBlanc. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, states several Port members violated Louisiana open meeting law when they elected a new Port board president at their meeting Monday night.
“The four newest members of the Port board arrived and within short order attempted to elect a new president which hadn’t been properly noticed on the agenda or advertised,” Walt Sanchez, former Port board member and president said. “Both attorneys for the Port were present, told them on the record that this was a violation of the open meetings law, it did not deter them. They conducted an election in violation of the open meetings law and elected a new president.”
The lawsuit states the four board members, Carl Krielow, David Darbone, Thomas Lorenzi, and Michael Prudhomme, “violated The Open Meetings Law on August 26, 2019 by conducting an election for and purportedly electing David Darbone as President of The Port Board without complying with the statute” and goes on to say “the election of David Darbone as President of The Port Board on August 26, 2019 is illegal and therefore null and void”.
In the Monday night meeting, the lawsuit states “During the regular order of business, Krielow moved and Lorenzi seconded a motion to elect a new President of The Port Board, to fill the vacancy of the office” and that “both counsel for The Port Board informed all board members on the record that the agenda could not be modified to consider such an election” and that “any action taken without such consent would be a clear violation of the Open Meetings Law”.
The state’s open meetings law is meant to ensure that decisions are made in an open forum and is designed to ensure integrity and to increase the public’s trust and awareness of officials.
The lawsuit goes on to state “A substitute motion seeking the unanimous consent of the Board to amend the agenda to add the election of a new President failed. Depsite the failure of the substitute motion, Commissioners Krielow, Darbone, Lorenzi, and Prudhomme voted on the original motion and elected Darbone President of The Port Board”.
Board members Elsie Guillory [vice president and acting president of the Port], Michael Eason and Dudley Dixon opposed it.
“The Port Board has a set of officers that preside over the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal Commission,” John LeBlanc, Port Board President until August 1, when his term expired, said. “I was removed off the board, at that time I was currently serving as president of the board, and Mr. Elcie Guillory was the Vice President of the Board. So the normal progression is that the vice president moves up and takes the president’s place. You don’t have to call for an election, that’s the normal protocol of moving the officers up. Someone sought to have a different agenda and to call for an election when it was not called for and when it was not needed to be honest with you. Mr. Elcie was presiding over the meeting as the President of the Board. What concerned me was the way they just basically steamrolled the president.”
“This Port is so important,” Wade Shaddock said. “Not just to Southwest Louisiana, but to Louisiana and the nation as a whole. We are soon going to be, I think, the 9th largest port in the whole United States. When I went on the Board in ’05 I believe, the entire Port Board ahead of us had been dismissed. The Governor took them off because of such behavior. Some ended up going to prison. We got on there with good people who would chose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. We didn’t put up with this sort of thing. It’s disgusting. Shame on them.”
7News reached out to the Port of Lake Charles; Jon Ringo, Assistant General Counsel of the Port, provided the following statement: “The petition speaks for itself and I don’t have any further comment on any specifics other than to say the meeting was cancelled in response to the order issued by the judge”.
A special meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District that had been scheduled for August 29 was cancelled Wednesday.
A judge has signed a temporary restraining order that prohibits port board meetings until a court hearing to determine if the election of a new Port president was illegal.
A hearing has been set for September 19 at 10 a.m.