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New hurdle for hospital district abolishment

By: HARLAN KIRGAN
LSN Editor

OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council will be asked to seek a declaratory judgment in the 27th Judicial Court District on a plan to dissolve the First Hospital District of the Parishes of St. Landry and St. Martin, which operated the now closed St. Luke Hospital in Arnaudville.
A proposal to seek an attorney general’s opinion on the hospital district dissolution was removed from the Council’s Administrative-Finance Committee on Wednesday after the panel decided to ask the full Council to seek a declaratory judgment.
The judgement would have the force of law, according to Chad Pitre, the Council’s attorney, at Wednesday’s meeting.
The Council voted 7-6 on Jan. 18 in favor of an agreement with St. Martin Parish to dissolve the hospital district and divide its assets.
The hospital district has about $1.4 million and the hospital in assets. The agreement gives St. Landry Parish the hospital and about $500,000.
A group of Arnaudville residents want to turn the building into a French Immersion Campus to draw students from across the world.
The St Martin Parish Council voted 9-0 to approve the agreement to end the district formed in 1963.
Parish President Bill Fontenot said there are citizens “in hostile possession” of the district’s records and bank accounts since the vote to dissolve the district.
“I don’t think it is logical to have a discussion any more since all of the ordinances have passed. It is an administrative issue, but I’d just want to bring it to your attention that I’m working with our attorney and our district attorney’s office to get this resolved very shortly,” he said.
Council member Harold Taylor said he has received several letters from attorneys with two different different opinions on the dissolving the district.
Pitre said, “After reading all these legal opinions that Mr. Taylor has mentioned, my opinion has never changed or wavered. A parish ordinance, just like a state statute, is presumed to be constitutional until it is challenged and ruled on by a court to be unconstitutional.”
Pitre said the ordinances passed by both parishes to abolish the district are valid and it would be up to an outside party to challenge the action.
The state constitution and a statute passed by the Legislature give parish governments the power to abolish districts they create.
There may be questions about the division and use of the assets, he said.
Pitre did recommend asking for a declaratory judgement.
“I think it is important to ask the court to give its final say on it,” he said. But he also said the court may reject giving a declaratory judgment.
Board member Nancy Carriere said the hospital district is seeking an attorney general’s opinion on the dissolution.
Pitre replied, “There is no hospital district. You abolished it and you have to presume your laws mean something. It has been passed by both parishes ...”
Pitre also urged the Council to act in conjunction with St. Martin Parish Government.
“If we go in one direction and they go in another direction it may confuse and be time consuming and it may not be efficient,” he said.

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