Councilor issues public statement about allegations made Tuesday

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2018

Councilor Tammy Valente has issued a formal statement regarding the accusations she has made against City Manager Jim Luke during Tuesday’s meeting.

“The people of the city of Picayune deserve transparency, respect and trust in the people whom they have voted into office, as well as those who have been appointed by us. As far as I’m concerned, this trust has been betrayed,” Valente said in a written statement.

She goes on to say that it is “shameful that we have an issue within the city that someone appointed by the Council…. has been caught recording conversations that are clearly for his benefit…. My greatest hope is that this Council will take necessary action to ensure that we can restore trust and create an environment where our standard of practice remains honorable.”

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A copy of a voicemail left on Valente’s cellphone appears to show that on May 11, Luke tried to call her to speak about a matter.

In the voicemail Luke can be heard saying, “I’m not recording her for anything that’s to her benefit, I’m recording her to protect me and you.” Luke appears to be speaking to City Clerk Amber Hinton, who can be heard in the background. 

“I want to share with her what I think this is going to do and if she still wants to proceed with it. What I want to do is, I want to let her know… they can do it, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want it to be said that you and I let them know…,” Luke goes on to say.

At that time, the voicemail reflects a call being made to Councilor Wayne Gouguet where discussion about Friendship Park is conducted before the voicemail ends.

Valente said that she thinks Luke was calling her to discuss her intention to add an item to the agenda concerning fixing Kid’s Kingdom at Friendship Park using grants, fundraisers and city resources. She said she asked him to add that item to the agenda due to the safety issues the dilapidated structure poses, which she feels is a problem that requires immediate attention. The Item went to Kid’s Kingdom Wednesday afternoon, and noticed that several boards appear to be rotten and the number of operational swings has been reduced.

A call to Luke for comment on the allegations Valente has made was not returned by press time.

In other matters discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, the Council approved a motion to abandon a utility easement located in the Walkiah community. Public Works Director Eric Morris said that according to his research, the property was acquired by the city back in the 1940s when plans were in motion to bring natural gas service to the city.

It appears as though those plans included bringing natural gas service to areas outside the city as far as Walkiah Bluff, but that system was never built. Morris suggested the city abandon the easement.

“We don’t see any future need for this easement,” Morris said.

The Council approved a motion to relinquish the easement to the adjacent landowner with the stipulation that the person assuming ownership pay all legal fees.

Development of a piece of property along Highway 11 prompted the city to consider two options to provide water service to the area. Morris said that the piece of property is located along Highway 11 near Meadow Green Boulevard and Quick and Grice Hardware. While Morris didn’t provide details of the development, he did say it would be commercial. A number of options were presented to the Council to provide water to the planned building. Even though there  is a water main  near Walker’s Collision, it is aging and there is no easement. The only viable options is to just connect to the building at a cost of about $12,000, or install a new main that would be looped into the existing system at a cost of about $54,000.

Morris said the extra benefit of installing a new main that would loop back into the system would be the increased water flow that could be utilized by the fire personnel in the instance of a fire, especially since the city’s natural gas distribution center is nearby.

Fire Chief Keith Brown said that while the department has two 1,000 gallon tankers on hand, unlimited flow of water is ideal when fighting fires. Morris added that the extra flow would also allow for more development in the area.

The Council approved adding the matter to the June 19, agenda for consideration at that time.

The next Council meeting will be held on June 5 at 5 p.m.