Assistant District Attorney Marcus Fontenot advises the Evangeline Parish Police Jury on its options of reopening the parish during the meeting held Monday, May 4, at the parish courthouse. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Gray area businesses in Evangeline Parish (such as clothing stores, jewelry stores, sporting good stores, furniture stores, book stores, law offices, and accounting firms) can now reopen following the Evangeline Parish Police Jury meeting held Monday, May 4.
These gray area businesses were not listed as being essential or non-essential in Governor John Bel Edwards’ Stay-at-Home orders.
The vote came after Police Jury President Ryan “Leday” Williams wanted guidance from the jurors on how to proceed with reopening the parish.
“I have no problem with all businesses reopening,” said Juror Bryan Vidrine.
Williams then stated, “It is unfair the way the order is set up because some non-essential businesses offer the same services that these essential businesses offer. I don’t see why it’s different between non-essential and essential if they are all providing a service and everybody is susceptible to catching the virus.”
Voicing his concern on going forward was Juror Daniel Arvie who stated, “The governor said there is a possibility he’s going to let everything open on May 15. I’d like to follow the governor’s orders and wait two more weeks to see how it goes before we make any recommendations.”
The other jurors disagreed.
“People are hurting enough,” said Juror Ryan Ardoin. “I think if people use common sense and take precautions then we’ll be ok.”
Making an emphatic argument for opening the parish was Juror Kevin Veillon. He expressed, “It’s time we move forward. There are a lot of people out there who own businesses that are hurting. A lot of people are hurting out there in Evangeline Parish.”
He continued, “You look at the numbers and see people are dying and are sick, but I can leave here and get killed in a car wreck. We can’t hold our lives down forever for a virus. People are going through bankruptcy and are losing their cars, their homes, their wives, and their husbands. I think we need to act and use our power to open some businesses here in Evangeline Parish.”
Veillon’s argument reached its climax when he said, “The media did a great job of scaring the people here in the United States. The people are scared. I’m 48-years-old. If you would have asked me when I was 18 if this could happen in the United States, the most powerful country in the world, I would have said absolutely not. But, it has happened. I’ve seen it with my own eyeballs. Now, we just have to move forward. We can’t just stop and stay crippled.”
He continued, “If the owners want to take responsibilities with their restrictions of their businesses and start making money to pay their bills and not relying strictly on the bank, then it’s time to move forward. Let’s talk about the restrictions and see what’s legal.”
Juror Keith Saucier commented, “I think we need to open up. Businesses are hurting. We need to move forward.”
Veillon then added, “I think people take advantage of this thing, and I think we need to move forward and start opening to try to get Evangeline Parish a step forward and move on.”
Juror Sidney Fontenot asked if the police jury has the authority to override the governor’s orders.
Assistant District Attorney Marcus Fontenot replied, “No.”
Fontenot explained, “We are a state agency. The governor issued an executive order, which he’s provided that power by the Constitution of our state, and we don’t have the authority to override his executive order.”
He added, “There are a lot of rules people don’t follow. That doesn’t mean they have authority not to follow them. As a general rule, we have to follow what the governor says.”
The topic of gray area businesses first arose when Ardoin replied, “I know for a fact there are non-essentials that are not listed, and I know for a fact these can open because they’re not listed in the order like flea markets, certain retail stores, and jewelry stores.”
Ardoin later made the motion to allow “areas not specifically ordered to remain closed to be reopened under the guidelines of the social distancing and face mask requirements that the state made.”
He added, “I don’t think there is anything out of order in that motion. It’s only broadening the essential businesses that are not listed because they’re not non-essentially listed as well. A place that might have five customers at the best time of the day is being told they have to shut down, but you got 100 people at Walmart walking around all over the place. What’s the difference?”
Fontenot replied, “If the jury passes a motion that would authorize any business that’s not specifically listed or specifically excluded to open, then that would be ok because you’re not defying the order.”
Ardoin’s motion passed unanimously. Jurors Lamar Johnson and Eric Soileau were not present.
In a statement on Tuesday, May 5, Evangeline Parish District Attorney Trent Brignac expressed, “We support our local businesses and wish they could reopen in a safe matter, but we don’t want to give the police jury bad advice. We would hate to see these businesses losing their state licenses if they reopen.”
For coverage of the other items discussed during the police jury meeting, pick up a copy of the Sunday, May 10, edition of the Ville Platte Gazette.