LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - A dispute that had Lake Charles Port Board meetings on hold has been resolved and a temporary restraining order has been lifted, freeing the board to again hold meetings.
Both sides now agree the Lake Charles Port Board violated the open meetings law when they tried to vote in a new president--without it being on the agenda and without a unanimous vote to put it on the agenda.
But attorney Walt Sanchez says what happened is of concern.
“The issue's not who's the president, the issue is the public has a right to know what's taking place on that board and that they're not allowed to take actions without proper notice or in secret, and so the fact that they acknowledged that they violated the open meetings law was the purpose of the suit and that they also acknowledge that Elcie Guillory is the appropriate acting officer at this point,” said Sanchez.
However, attorney Tom Filo, who represents port commissioner Carl Krielow, says his client is a rice farmer not well versed in the open meetings law and that the violation was unintentional. Filo says changes at the Port are needed.
“Regime change is hard. The one thing that I know for a fact is that the governor had one thing in mind when he wanted to get some people on that port board and that was to get the port back to work. It means get ships in here, get some local labor out there loading ships. It means dredge the ship channel like you're supposed to,” said Filo.
“I think the people that want to have a lazy port, people that want that port to simply collect checks from L‘auberge, and the Golden Nugget and spent the money on fancy new buildings for the administration, where they don’t have to deal with workers and ships and all the headache that goes along with running the port, those people will tell you there aren’t any jobs anymore,” said Filo.
At the meeting in violation, there was a move to create a search committee for a new port director. Yet, current director Bill Rase says he's received no word from the board on whether they want him to stay or go when his contract expires year's end.
Sanchez warns the public should keep a watchful eye.
“It's clear they want a new port director. There's not an opening, yet the first thing they did was form a committee to find a new one. The question is why. Why was it necessary to move with such haste? The public needs to watch this board and watch its actions and make sure there's oversight on what they're doing and how they're doing it,” said Sanchez.
“If the port can make zero money, but create 400 jobs, that’s their mission. You want there to be jobs, you want there to be a lot of commerce activity going through the port," said Filo.
The board is expected to hold a special meeting soon to re-do what was improperly done August 26th.
Since Governor John Bel Edwards has changed the makeup of the board, we called to see if he wants the board to change direction. A spokesperson says Edwards selected appointees he thought would do a good job making sure the port is competitive.
“Whenever he is making appointments to any board or commission, the governor considers several factors including nominations made by specific nominating authorities outlined in the law, as well as recommendations from many different groups, including, in this case, the Southwest Delegation. There are seven members of this board and three of the current members were Jindal appointees who were reappointed by governor Edwards upon the recommendations of local officials. The governor selected appointees that he thought would do a good job making sure the Port of Lake Charles is competitive,” said spokesperson, Christina Stephens, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communications. She also provided the following:
Facts on recent appointees.
• Dudley Dixon re-appointed on August 1, 2019, was originally appointed on August 1, 2015, under the Jindal administration. He was nominated by the city of Westlake and the SWLA delegation.
• Michael Keith Prudhomme was appointed August 1, 2019, by Governor Edwards. He was nominated by the Cameron Parish Policy Jury.
• Michael Eason, re-appointed by Governor Edwards July 31, 2019, was originally appointed June 7, 2013, under the Jindal administration. He was nominated by the City of Lake Charles.