Jurors clash during emergency meeting

Durrett accepts responsibility for approving unauthorized projects 

By Luke Britt/Editor

An emergency meeting of the Union Parish Police Jury’s road committee Tuesday became heated when Police Juror Ben Bridges accused fellow juror Dewayne Ramsey and Public Works director Tommy Durrett of orchestrating two recent projects in Ramsey’s district that violated Policy Jury policy and state law.

According to Bridges, a road project that took place in June circumvented the parish’s road maintenance priority program, and the price tag for bush hogging of 65 miles of roadsides in June and July violated the state’s public bid laws. Both projects occurred in Ramsey’s District 3.

Durrett told the road committee that he authorized both projects on his own and said that Ramsey had nothing to do with either.

The bush hogging issue came to light when the jury received a $33,150 invoice last week from Mac’s Tree Service of El Dorado for cutting the grass on both sides of five roads, all of which are in Ramsey’s district.

Bridges also questioned why a mile of Clellan Bryan Road near Spearsville recently received a zipping treatment when numerous other roads rank higher on the parish’s road maintenance priority list. Clellan Bryan Road is ranked 134 on that list.

According to Jury Secretary-Treasurer Paula Strickland, both projects were undertaken without the required authorization of the Police Jury.

Strickland said any project costing more than $10,000 requires the prior approval by vote of the full Jury. In addition, state law requires local governments to obtain quotes from three vendors before authorizing projects with prices tags above $30,000.

“What Tommy did violated both of those policies,” Strickland said.  

Bridges said that Durrett is authorized to conduct routine maintenance on any road he feels needs immediate attention without seeking the Jury’s approval, “but zipping a mile of road is not routine maintenance,”

“This feels like the same old, good ole boy nonsense that we’ve always seen in this parish,” Bridges said. “The whole point of prioritizing roads is to make it fair and to fix roads that need it most or that will benefit the most people regardless of what district the road happens to be in.”

On Tuesday, Durrett denied that he undertook either project as a favor to Ramsey, pointing out that road maintenance and bush hogging projects have been occurring in other jurors’ districts as well.

“I am 100 percent responsible,” Durret said. “Dewayne should not be blamed for my mistake.”

The advertised reason for the meeting, the deterioration of two culverts on Burma Road, became a footnote to the road maintenance and bush hogging issue. Bridges has been tasked with troubleshooting the issue on Tuesday told the road committee it was not going to be a normal culvert replacement project.

While the parish regularly repairs culverts without declaring an emergency, Bridges said the Burma Road culverts present a unique problem because the surrounding terrain will make it very difficult to repair in the usual manner. 

The culverts, which are metal and old and falling apart, are set much deeper than most culverts, under between 20 and 30 feet of dirt, he said. As a result, the cost of replacing them will be significantly higher than most culvert projects. 

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