Council postpones permanent official journal decision

Jun 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: Top Story

A resolution to appoint the St. Bernard Voice as the official journal for St. Bernard Parish failed by a 3 – 4 vote at the June 19 council meeting. Councilmen Nathan Gorbaty, Ritchie Lewis, Casey Hunnicutt, and Councilchair Guy McInnis were in opposition of the resolution.

Councilchair Guy McInnis, the most vocal opponent, stated that he could not support the measure because he feels that the St. Bernard Voice is not in compliance with state law, specifically the business address requirements which mandate “that the newspaper has been published in an office physically located in St. Bernard Parish for a period of five years preceeding the selection.”

McInnis further requested that the matter be forwarded to the state attorney general’s office to review whether or not The Voice is a qualified bidder by subpoenaing the office’s utility and phone bills as a means to determine if the office has been inhabited since July 2007.

“We’ll decide for ourselves whether or not the office has been open for five years,” McInnis affirmed.

Questions were raised by Councilman George Cavignac, who voted in favor of the resolution, about the interpretation of the law.

There is a provision in state law that says that the five-year office requirement “shall not be applied in assessing the qualifications of a newspaper which was in existence May 11, 1970″.

St. Bernard Voice office has been located at 234 Mehle Ave. in Arabi since 1912. In 2008, owner and grandson of the paper’s founder, E.M. Roy sold The Voice to Norris Babin and Dale Benoit. Babin and Benoit are co-owners of Print All Inc. and the Plaquemines Gazette, located in Belle Chasse.

Babin explained to the council that the paper’s core staff– comprised of five employees–regularly commutes between the two offices to work on both publications but stressed that The Voice does meet the state law’s requirements.

Roy, who rode out Hurricane Katrina in the St. Bernard Voice’s Mehle Ave. office, maintains that the Voice office was closed for renovations after the storm but was opened up again in 2007.

“Why would they continue paying me rent if the office wasn’t open in that location?,” Roy stated. “News gathering has always been P.O.Box 88 and 234 Mehle.”

Other members of the council also expressed concern over the five-year requirements, and that The Voice’s bid for the contract was so high, including District C Councilman Ritchie Lewis.

“It offends me as a taxpayer that your bid is the max allowed by law,” Lewis said.

The St. Bernard Voice’s bid hasn’t changed since the 1980′s.

There was no other bidder on the official journal contract. The St. Bernard News submitted a bid June 7, but withdrew the bid June 12 due to “a misinterpretation of the Ls. Statue 41:142″.

The St. Bernard News’ primary business office is located in Metairie. Additionally, The News is a free publication, and state law requires that the official journal maintain a paid circulation.

The official journal debate began in March when Councilchair Guy McInnis asked State Rep. Ray Garofalo to introduce legislation that would change state law to allow the parish to hire a newspaper that has been in office for at least six months. This change would have allowed a new publication, The St. Bernard Post to qualify for the contract.

Garofalo eventually dropped the bill after it was revealed that he rented office space to St. Bernard Parish Post publisher Kenny Zulli at a discounted rate.

McInnis stated that the Council would continue to use the St. Bernard Voice as it’s official journal until the matter was resolved.

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