Sunday, March 08, 2015

Mayor Landrieu, St. Charles Parish resolve dispute over Aviation Board seat

A long-running legal dispute between New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the St. Charles Parish Council over the parish’s appointment to the New Orleans Aviation Board may be over.

Officials in St. Charles last week signed off on a settlement in which Landrieu has agreed to dismiss — with prejudice — a lawsuit he filed against the parish in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

The dispute involved a 1985 pact that gave St. Charles a 15.5 percent share of sales tax revenue from the airport, plus the right to appoint a representative to the nine-member Aviation Board, in exchange for allowing an airport runway to extend into the parish.

In 2014, the Parish Council unanimously nominated Gary Smith Sr. to serve on the board, reclaiming a post held for many years by his father, Henry, who died in September 2011.

The Parish Council, however, had first nominated Neal Clulee, a politically active Hahnville resident, for the seat. Landrieu balked at accepting that appointment, saying Clulee did not have wide enough support in St. Charles, but an attorney general’s opinion requested by St. Charles officials said the mayor was required to accept the Parish Council’s appointment, pending approval by the New Orleans City Council.

The new settlement stipulates that when the term of the parish’s appointment to the board — which operates Louis Armstrong International Airport — is over, the St. Charles Parish Council will submit to the mayor the names of three possible replacements. The mayor will consider the candidates and determine which, if any, will then go to the New Orleans City Council for approval.

If the mayor decides none of the three is suitable, or if the City Council does not approve a candidate, the Parish Council will then submit three more names to the mayor. From that second list, the mayor will choose one to go before the council.

“In all cases, the parties agree to proceed with the nomination and selection process with all reasonable diligence and speed,” according to the settlement, which leaves the rest of the 1985 pact in place.

Landrieu’s lawsuit against the council and Parish President V.J. St. Pierre had contended that he did not need to accept the parish’s nominee. The mayor had maintained after Clulee’s appointment that the lawsuit was necessary to “put consensus candidates on this important board.”

St. Charles officials spent tens of thousands of dollars in the legal battle, which gained importance as they sought to maintain their share of the airport’s sales tax revenue.

By agreeing to dismiss the suit with prejudice, Landrieu agreed not to refile it or something similar.


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