Couple waiting on ‘due process’
Deputies to soon have more digital storage space
A Vidor-area couple got a taste of the sometimes slow-moving wheels of government when they brought a complaint to Orange County commissioners this week. The court also heard from sheriff’s officials, who were granted funds to buy more digital storage space generated by patrol car camera video.
Ernest and Marian Bayard learned that, under present state statutes, they’d have a better chance with their case dealing with a municipality. Unfortunately, they don’t live in the city limits.
They said at issue was a neighbor’s malfunctioning wastewater system, which pumps sewage into its front yard. They believe it to be an environmental hazard and Marian Bayard says she suffers from COP2, a respiratory ailment, of which they believe the sewage smell is a contributing factor.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton, whose precinct includes the Vidor area, said he’s visited the property and found the smell “horrendous.” Authorities believe the grounds also contain the bacteria E. coli – which can sometimes be harmless, and sometimes not. The couple told The Record Newspapers they believe the hazard could cut into their business of growing blueberries, which they operate under the name M and E Farm.
The Bayards said their neighbor has complied in the past regarding the issue, but cooperation has cooled and by October, 2008, the couple called county health authorities. Legal action was taken by the county after the system was found to be non-compliant, and was set back by at least one continuance. Another court date is set for July in Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Rodney Price’s court.
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the case must first go through due process.
“They have a right to a court hearing,” he said. “We cannot dictate when they go to court. We cannot dictate the result of that hearing.
It’s in the hands of the JP’s office.”
Assistant County Attorney Douglas Manning, who advises the court on legal issues, added, “ … cities can expedite quickly. The county is not authorized to go in and take action quickly. All we can do is oppose a motion for continuance. So you might say, ‘Well, why don’t you oppose a motion for continuance?’ Because the way judges typically operate is a ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’ principle. If you as a litigant in that court continually oppose motions for continuances requested by other parties; one day we’ll need a motion for continuance … [and] the court’s going to say, ‘You know, you always want motions for a continuance that are requested by someone else. So why should we grant yours?’”
Ernest Bayard said he’d like to see “some teeth” in the compliance laws, but was told only the state Legislature can change statutes.
“Your only other option,” Thibodeaux said, “is filing a civil suit against the homeowner. But then you are faced with winning the case and getting your expenses recovered.”
Manning said he and colleagues at statewide legal conferences often express frustration when similar issues are brought up. “Most of the time [the person being sued] shows up and says, ‘I promise I’ll fix it,’” Manning said. “And then the court will typically reset the case and give them time to come into compliance, even though they may have gone out of compliance in October, 2008 … But unlike a municipality we don’t have the statutory authority to go out there and address it like that.”
Minton added, “If there’s anything that could be done, I think we’d do it today.” Manning said he would find out why there was a continuance in June about the matter, and call the Bayards to answer any questions they might have. Ernest Bayard thanked Minton and Health and Code Compliance Director Joel Ardoin for working with him since 2008.
In other business:
• The sheriff’s department was granted $10,650 from county emergency contingency funds to buy a storage system for digital files taken from cameras in patrol cars. The sheriff’s budget will provide $5,000, making it $15,650 in all. Deputies told commissioners that when new cars are bought, they have digital systems rather than out-dated VHS video systems and the department’s need for storage space has increased.
• David Self Ford in Orange got a bid to deliver a new motor for one of the county’s 21-passenger buses that transports handicapped residents. Commissioners passed over a lower bid from a small Port Arthur business because it had asked for money up front (which is not county policy). Self got the contract for $12,550.