The Ferriday Town Council voted unanimously at a special meeting on Monday to hire a city engineer and city planner/economic developer on the recommendation of Ferriday businessman Clint Vegas.
On a motion by Alderman Glenn Henderson, aldermen agreed to employ Jatinder Goel of Baton Rouge as a town engineer and Rev. James Smith of Rayville as a city planner contingent upon town attorney Myisha Davis reviewing the contractual terms.
Davis was absent from the meeting, while alderwoman Gloria Lloyd was out of town.
Aldermen Chryl Smith-Lee, Gail Pryor, Andre Keys and Henderson voted for the hiring.
Delta Fuel owner Clint Vegas of Ferriday introduced Goel and Smith to the town council at its November meeting, prompting a special meeting to vote on a proposal previously presented by Vegas.
Vegas said that Goel would be paid through grants while Smith is working for free.
"What I am proposing to the town is a city engineer, which is Mr. J. In my travels I met Rev. John Smith who has been the city planner for Rayville and is currently city planner for Bonita (Morehouse Parish),” Vegas said. "I'm offering his services to you all.”
"There's a lot of confusion on why you (the council) would want Mr. J. as an engineer for the town when you feel you have (engineer) Bryant Hammett," Vegas said. "For the first time you will have somebody who represents the Town of Ferriday's best interests. It's his job to explain everything that is going on with the water, with the sewage.
“If we are planning to build some things like housing in town he represents you. He does what y'all want him to do. And he explains it.
"For example, Ridgecrest is fixing to tie into our water system," Vegas said. "I don't know if that's a good deal. It's our water plant. At this point you don't really have any say in the way it's going, how we're tying in. There seems to be a negotiation for how much you are selling the water. Who represents the town in all of that? You have an engineer who can physically be there for all of that."
Ridgecrest Mayor Veller Ray Carroll said this week, however, that Ridgecrest would continue using Bryant Hammett & Associates, LLC as engineers for Ridgecrest’s proposed tie in with Ferriday’s water system.
Vegas said Goel and Smith are also working with Entergy for better street lights for the town, and obtaining three police cars through a grant.
Vegas said that according to the town’s finances from the past fiscal year, the town made $140,000 profit.
“We are not on the list of those in financial trouble,” he said. “But if you look at 2017 this town made $1.3 million. That's not cash you can go out and spend. It is cash that was dedicated to buildings and things that are of value to the Town of Ferriday. Mr. J with the reverend's help will chase down the new housing, a new fire department or a new city hall."
He said water pipes are the main concern.
Vegas said the group looked at the “water plant prior to the last meeting and in the conversation we found out that there are a lot of metal pipes that are old. We applied for a grant because you have to do it before November 1 or you have to wait until next year.”
The grant, which Vegas said was discussed with McMahon before an application was filed, is a capital outlay grant for $5.1 million to repair old water pipes that were not removed when new pipes were installed.
Pryor said she has had constituents question whether everyone involved has been vetted, and that some said it sounded too good to be true.
"My opinion on that is that I have known Clint a long time and I have always had the highest regard for the man," Pryor said. "If there's anything that is going on he is putting his name out there and he is one of the persons to be held accountable if something does not go right. I trust you guys for what you say. If there's anything that goes wrong down the line I don't want to be held accountable for it."
Vegas said in the contract there is a 30-day notice for the board to terminate Goel's contract if they have a problem with the hiring
Pryor asked how this would affect engineering work done by Hammett for the town.
"He is not a town employee," Henderson said.
Goel “would be a town employee," McMahon said.
Vegas said there is no ongoing project Hammett is working on for the town unless the town physically got him to do something at the water plant or with roads.
"It's an individual contract," Vegas said. "He doesn't really represent the town."
"He works for the town when hired," McMahon said.
"I think this gives us a second eye to what's going on to make sure things are being economically vested," Vegas said, adding, "Bryant is a good friend of mine."
Pryor also inquired if JCP, which manages the town’s water operations, has been made aware of the discussions.
"I just want to make sure everyone is in the loop," Pryor said. "I wanted to have time to look into this matter. When I saw the concern on our attorney's face, that's when I wanted to find out what her concerns are. And I'm still waiting to hear from her."
McMahon said there is a contract for Davis to look over for the town.
"We're all talking about water now because that is the issue right now,” Vegas said. "I'm hoping to have that eventually resolved where that's not an issue. These guys are going to be looking for developmental grants for new housing and other things. Where will we be 10 years down the road? What's the vision? Our next step is to move on. We have a meeting set up with JCP to go over everything."