BELLE CHASSE, La. (CN) – Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who became something of a media star during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, has been sued 14 times this month by his Parish Council. Nungesser called it bitter politics from council members who have left office. Assistant Parish Attorney Michael Mullin said it’s possible that none of the 14 requests for mandamus may be enforceable.
The 14 requests for mandamus are all “about trying to make the parish president do things that are really in his discretion,” Mullin said.
He added during a Wednesday interview that he had been served with notice of a new mandamus against Nungesser earlier that day.
“I was sort of amazed,” Mullin said. “It is bizarre – all of them are bizarre.”
Mullin said he was referring to the timing of the complaints – not to the complaints themselves.
The mandamuses range from enforcement of the Louisiana Public Record Act to enforcement of other ordinances Nungesser allegedly ignored. At least one mandamus concerns enforcement of ordinances in support of Coastal Zone Management.
The plaintiff in all the filings is the Plaquemines Parish Council.
Some request something very specific. One, for instance, says Nungesser failed to complete a highway striping and resurfacing project.
Another says Nungesser was supposed to, but did not, purchase 6 acres in Nairn, Louisiana “on whatever terms he deemed necessary, proper and in the best interest of Plaquemines Parish” for construction of a community center.
Another one seeks to compel Nungesser “to enter into and execute an agreement with the firm of Burke-Kleinpeter Inc. for the project entitled ‘District 7 Drainage Improvements.'”
Another one says “that Nungesser’s administration has steadfastly not enforced the Plaquemines Coastal Zone Management Plan requirements for permits.”
According to that complaint, Nungesser allowed borrow pit operators that are “grandfathered in” to operate without license. And, according to that complaint, Nungesser doesn’t seem to care whether they backfill the holes they’ve dug when they’re done.
Other mandamuses are broader in scope.
One says Nungesser failed to turn over records relating to FEMA funding executed by the parish.
Another says Nungesser failed to respond to an October letter asking to inspect and copy “any and all public service contracts, inter-governmental agreements, and cooperative endeavor agreements in existence since January 1, 2007.”
Another seeks all “documents, pleadings, emails, facsimiles, correspondence, letters, memorandums, interoffice documentation, and intraoffice documentation generated by Stephen Braud as attorney for the Parish of Plaquemines.”
The mandamuses all say “the action to be taken by Nungesser is non-discretionary.” They all say Nungesser has failed to act.
Nungesser became the face of local government during the media circus that accompanied the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Throughout the summer, Nungesser’s heartfelt and harried voice was broadcast by radio and TV, in tones desperate and argumentative, demanding protection from the approaching oil slick.
He asked for containment boom and other safeguards, then as tar balls and sheets of oil washed ashore, inundating his parish’s fragile wetland grasses, pelican rookeries and estuaries, Nungesser’s demands grew more numerous and sometimes less specific. He complained that the politics and bureaucracy of response, or nonresponse, agencies made it like lifting barges to get any agency to do anything at all.
Even before the oil spill, but especially since, Plaquemines Parish is filled with Nungesser supporters.
And opponents. Some said his loud talk throughout the oil spill was grandstanding, that if he cared about wetlands he would have saved the time spent in guest appearances on CNN and used it to figure out and do something useful.
The attorney who filed all the mandamuses on behalf of the parish council said he had no choice but to do so.
Robert Barnett of Guste, Barnett, Schlesinger, Henderson & Alpaugh of New Orleans said that when Nungesser didn’t do what the council instructed him to, Barnett had no choice but to file suit.
“Look at the resolution in the mandates,” he said. “If Nungesser doesn’t do what he’s been instructed, as attorney, I have to file the mandate.”
But Nungesser’s attorney said he doubts whether the mandamuses are enforceable. He said the Parish Council can sue somebody only through the action of its individual, named members.
“Plaquemines Parish Council is not an entity capable of suing and being sued, since nowhere under the Parish Charter is the Parish Council granted the right to sue or be sued,” Mullin said.
He added that 2010 was an election year and four of the council’s nine members from 2010 are no longer on the council.
For it to be enforceable, “the suit must be filed with the names of the council members,” Mullin said, adding, “This is a tactic I have successfully used in the past.”
Nungesser said in an email statement on Wednesday: “These mandamuses were filed by angry Council Members in the prior term of office in an attempt to discredit me and my Administration. They were last-ditch efforts of outgoing Council Members to create negative publicity.
“Some of the mandamuses are so vague and voluminous in scope that we cannot realistically meet the request in the timely fashion envisioned by those same Council Members. I have an open door policy and have always extended invitations to those Council Members offering access to review all the information requested, but they never took us up on the offer.
“My Administration has a good working relationship with the new Parish Council which took office earlier this year. And we continue to open lines of communication to the Council as we work tirelessly to run a productive, positive, and transparent government.”