The Sterlington Town Council is expected to decide in early February whether to reimburse a local business owner for money she spent installing sewer infrastructure at her Sterlington business.
During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Town Council asked Monroe attorney Devin Jones to research the legal grounds for making such a payment. Jones serves as the town’s legal counsel.
Last month, Kitty Aulakh, of Monroe, asked the Town Council to allow her to deannex her business from the town Sterlington because the town had failed to extend sewer lines to her businesses and tie her into the town’s sewer system. She claimed former Mayor Vern Breland promised the sewer infrastructure as an advantage of annexation at that time.
Town officials have questioned whether the alleged verbal agreement could be enforced and also criticized Breland’s pledge as illegal since state law does not allow a town’s mayor to spend public funds without the council’s approval.
“We had a mayor who was not authorized to make that agreement,” said Town Council member Ron Hill.
Breland left office in late 2018. He currently faces a criminal charge for malfeasance in office.
Under Breland, Sterlington racked up millions in bonded indebtedness and was audited for several financial irregularities.
Aulakh’s attorney, Charlie Heck, of Monroe, told the Town Council on Tuesday that his client was amenable to abandoning her deannexation request if Sterlington reimbursed Aulakh for her costs installing her own sewer infrastructure.
Aulakh owns the Super Mart across from Johnny’s Pizza on U.S. Hwy 165.
Heck previously summoned two witnesses who confirmed they heard Breland promise Aulakh the sewer infrastructure.
“The way it stands right now, I’ve brought you two witnesses, who were there, who were told in their position as a councilman, ‘This was the deal,’” Heck said. “You can do the right thing. Either make it right or let it go.”
If the Town Council were to deny Aulakh’s deannexation request, Aulakh’s only option to escape the town’s jurisdiction would be a lawsuit at Fourth Judicial District Court, asking the court to allow her removal from the town.
“I’m not coming to you with the threat of lawsuits, but that’s the only recourse they have,” Heck said.
Referring to Aulakh’s warning she would sue Sterlington, Hill said, “Firing a missile at the town, it’s tantamount to that.”
Town Council member Zack Howse said the account of Breland’s alleged pledge was “too muddy” and “too shady” and full of “too many unknowns.”
“I can’t in good conscience agree to something that isn’t on paper and that I’m only being told about years later,” Howse said. “For me, I would be more inclined to say, ‘No, I’m not going to pass the deannexation request, but I would like to sit down and discuss a remedy.’”
Howse asked Jones, the town’s legal counsel, whether Sterlington could legally pay Aulakh a certain amount of money as reimbursement for her costs to satisfy her demands.
“What if we had to give away $5,000?” Howse said.
Jones said Sterlington could draft a cooperative endeavor agreement stipulating an exchange of funds for the ownership of sewer infrastructure.
“There are ways to do it,” Jones said.
Town Council members noted there remained a question about whether other property owners would consent to the donation of right-of-way before any agreement between Aulakh and Sterlington could be struck.
“I’m so tired of kicking this can down the road,” said Town Council member Matt Talbert. “ I’m ready to rock this thing but I want to see something on paper.”