Members of the Bayou La Batre Utilities Board stuck to their guns during a May 13 meeting by refusing to recognize Jeffrey Ladnier, who was recently appointed to the board by Mayor Brett Dungan.
Ladnier, who was originally accompanied by city attorney Bill Wasden, sat idly by as the regular meeting was conducted. Board President Sylvia Raley told Ladnier “it’s nothing personal,” but stated on the record the board was standing by a complaint filed in circuit court on May 12 and refusing to recognize his appointment.
The complaint, to which the city has yet to respond, was based on a discrepancy over term limits rooted in what was claimed to be “inaccurate” information the board included in a 2013 bond issue. Those terms suggest board member Louis Hard’s term ended on April 30, but the board is going by documents that have his term ending in 2016.
Raley said Wasden and the board’s attorney, Jay Ross, had previously planned to get together to try and straiten out what terms were valid, but before they had a chance, Ladnier was appointed by the City Council.
“They never said who he was replacing or anything,” she said. “The reason (Dungan) wants to go by those terms is because they have three members coming off the board in one year. I guess he wants to gain political power over the board. Maybe he needs to control the board to become superintendent.”
The position of superintendent has been a source of contention since the board voted not to offer Dungan the position — one that was held by the previous mayor and comes with an annual salary of $24,000. Raley has previously said the board no longer requires a superintendent and the position was left unfilled to cut cost.
Through its legal complaint, the utilities board is seeking a declaratory judgment that would temporarily suspend Ladnier’s appointment. However, Dungan believes the board’s refusal to accept his appointment is a violation of state law.
“These actions the board continues to take are inappropriate,” Dungan said. “The board was seeking an injunction, which was not granted. Since it was not granted, they acted illegally in the presence of council.”
Attorney Kevin Boucher was representing the board during the meeting.
Wasden said the Utilities Board is a public corporation and though it is separate from the city, the council and mayor are its appointing authority.
“There’s been no stay or any other injunctive relief that would have affected this appointment,” Wasden said. “Because no such order has been issued from the court, the appointment is presumptively valid.”
Wasden said he felt the motion was improper, adding it would be addressed it when the city’s response to the original complaint is filed.
Circuit Judge Charles Graddick will hear the case.
Ladnier said he was pleased Dungan gave him an opportunity to work for the citizens in Bayou La Batre.
“It is my hope that one day we’ll reach the goal of providing clean water to the citizens on a daily basis,” he said. “Regarding the power struggle between the utilities board and the city, I would hope that each entity has the citizens best interest as the focus in all the decisions that are made.”