Bunkie alderwoman files Ethics Board complaints against mayor, fellow-councilman

Bunkie City Councilwoman Brenda Sampson has filed complaints with the state Ethics Board against Mayor Bruce Coulon and fellow Alderman Bill Longoria.

In her letter to the Ethics Board, Sampson characterizes her comments as a request for "clarification to determine if ethics violations occurred."

Her complaint involving Coulon related to the furor that occurred when the city cut off water service to 95 households last month. Customers "were under the impression that they had extra time to pay the bills due to COVID-19. After much backlash, the mayor had many of the households' water services restored," Sampson said.

Sampson said the mayor commented in an open meeting on May 14 "that he charged some citizens reconnect fees and that he did not charge others." Coulon "did not clarify the criteria he employed" to determine which households would be required to pay reconnection fees and which ones were granted a waiver from paying the fee.

Coulon said he believes everyone who was disconnected had to pay a reconnection fee. He said Sampson may have misunderstood his comments at the May 14 meeting.

"I can't swear that everyone paid a reconnection fee because I'm not in the front taking the payments," Coulon said. "I know sometimes in the past someone might come in and pay their bill, but forgot to include the reconnection fee. When that happens, we just add that fee to their next month's bill and take care of it that way."

The mayor said the city tried to work with people who were stretched thin due to the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions.

"They didn't have to pay their bill the first month, but the next month they did and some were not aware of that," Coulon said. "We start disconnecting services after two months of non-payment. I tried to work with people by telling them to pay a little on the overdue amount until they could catch up."

He said some people thanked him for his efforts and "some people were upset that they had to pay."

The basis of the question concerning Longoria centers around the use of Bunkie firefighters to put a tarp over roof damage at Longoria's business during an April 29 storm. The on-duty firemen came back a week later to do more work on the storm-damaged building, Sampson alleges.

LONGORIA COMMENTS

Longoria said he lost part of his roof in the April 29 storm. Firemen helped put a tarp over the hole in the roof. On May 8 he noticed rain from another storm was getting under the tarp. He asked the fire chief if he had about 15-20 sandbags that could be used to secure the tarp until repairs could be made. There were none at the fire station, so Longoria obtained some at the city's maintenance yard.

Longoria filled the bags and brought them to his business. He said he called someone to help him put the sandbags on the roof.

When he got to his business, "two firemen showed up and asked if they could help. I didn't call them.They carried the bags to the edge of the roof. That's all."

Longoria said he and the man he had called finished the task.

"I never solicited help from any city employees to do work on my private property," Longria said.

Longoria and Sampson exchanged words at the council's May meeting when Sampson brought up the subject.

At that meeting, Longoria asked Sampson "how dare" she ask him about city employees working on his personal business.

At the June meetings she said she had thought about that comment to try to determine why her question evoked such anger from Longoria and why he would ask "how dare she" ask a legitimate question during the council meeting.

"Do you mean how dare I as a woman, how dare I as a minority or how dare I as someone who you feel is inferior to you," Sampson said to Longoria, reading from a prepared statement. "I dare ask as a councilwoman who seeks to ensure fairness to my constituents and the citizens of Bunkie."

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