Heated Moments After Monroe City Council Votes Down Budget Amendment

MONROE, LA -- Heated moments were exchanged at the Monroe City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

Once the council landed on the budget amendment item on their agenda, the tensions flared up.

The members discussed approving the end of the quarter budget amendment, a move the mayor says has been done many times over the years.

But this time, they voted it down, 3 to 1 -- with councilwoman Gretchen Ezernack being the only one to vote yes. The vote came after several minutes of heated comments between the council members and the mayor.

"It's another example of them not being informed in terms of what they're voting on. And they're voting emotionally, and certainly this is not in the best interest of the city," said Mayor Jamie Mayo in an interview after the meeting. "I really feel awful for my hard working administrative staff who works very hard on the budget, they have a very strong record of financial management and then you have a council that's uninformed most of the time that's trying to take it apart."

Councilman Ray Armstrong started the conversation with comments of concern about the budget amendment.

"When the council reviewed the budget and discussed it with the mayor, there were a number of items that we asked for and would approve in the budget if he would approve these nine items," said Armstrong during the meeting. "I would really like an accounting of this because we kept our part of the bargain and I really want to make sure we're all on the same table."

Councilman Kenneth Wilson echoed Armstrong's concerns, saying, "I want the administration to know going forward, I want the council to meet with the administration and department heads before the budget even starts so we can put some things in place for our district."

In past council meetings, Mayo says the council expressed certain requests, like the administration hiring additional summer workers.

"We did that, and that was not part of the initial budget. So we had to make an amendment," he said.

Mayo said that, along with other changes in expenses, were added to the budget amendment.

"They ask us to do something and we do it, and then they vote it down. That is perplexing," Mayo said.

Councilman Wilson then addressed a project idea for drainage covers on 8th Street, but Mayo -- who remained mostly silent during the beginning of the meeting -- fired back, saying Wilson needed to find a "funding mechanism" before bringing different projects to the city.

Mayo said they had not received that request before, and advised the council saying, "When you come up with a project, come up with a funding mechanism to do so, because that's how we address the budget."

"If you have a project that you want done, you have to come up with a funding mechanism to be able to do that," Mayo said. "Because we don't have countless funds in an operating budget to be able to do that. But he does not have that understanding to present to us and once we communicate to him and others, they're not accepting that."

Once Wilson, Armstrong and Mayo began arguing about the projects, Councilwoman Ezernack interjected and said it was not germane to reverse a budget amendment.

"I think we're off topic here, I think we were asked to approve the first budget fiscal year amendment, and it's fairly straight forward, it's something we do every year," she said during the meeting.

She said she would like to see where they are with Wilson's project idea but added that she doesn't think it hasn't anything to do with whether they approve this budget amendment or not. She concluded with another comment after the vote was made.

"We have sat here for the last couple of years and we have aired our feelings in public. Our confidence level as a community has dropped dramatically. It will take years to repair that, and this is a prime example of that. Come of these issues tonight could have been handled before we got to the meeting. I ask my colleagues to follow those types of processes and lets not fight  in a public venue. Let's try to resolve our issues. We were elected to represent our district to the best of our abilities in our community and we need to move forward with that and quit all of this embarrassment." Ezernack said during the meeting. "This is not a battle between the council and administration, we're supposed to be on the same team for the benefit of the community. Not for personal agendas."

During the meeting, Wilson and Armstrong said they wanted to be part of the budget process on the administrative side.

"The council has never been part of that in the whole history of the city. That's a part of what the charter talks about -- the administration puts together the budget, and then we present it to the council, a balanced budget. We are not going to allow them to be part of the administrative process of putting together a budget and then voting on it. That's a conflict of interest," said Mayo.

Mayor Mayo says because the council voted down the budget amendment, the budget is now unbalanced.

"We just have some huge issues with this council. We have some huge issues with the leadership of this council and I can't do anything about that, the public has to do something about that," he said.

After the council meeting, Armstrong stood behind his decision.

"All I wanted is good business and proper communications. And I want to emphasize, that's the reason I did that," he said. "I want better communication and a better business relationship and I'll work towards doing that."
Mayo says the administration will continue to move forward despite Tuesday's meeting.

Of the council's decision, Mayo added, "They continue to try and take matters and things into their own hands, that's not something that I accept and that's not something I'm going to agree with."

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