Get Wright on It: Clarence mayor discusses allegations

Chaos in Clarence goes from bad to worse
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: Shayne Wright/KSLA News 12)
(Source: Shayne Wright/KSLA News 12)
(Source: Shayne Wright/KSLA News 12)
(Source: Shayne Wright/KSLA News 12)

CLARENCE, LA (KSLA) - A back-and-forth between village leaders and residents is tearing at the seams of the Natchitoches Parish community of Clarence.

A water boil advisory is in its fourth month, the village no longer has a police department and council meetings have been canceled.

Now, for the first time, Clarence's mayor opens up about some of the allegations against him over these and other issues.

Clarence is a tiny village you will miss if you blink as you drive down U.S. Highway 71.

But it also is anything but a hamlet these days.

It's a community in turmoil where some people are demanding that their mayor step down.

He counters that they are trying to sabotage the village.

"A living hell" is how at least one elected official describes what life has been like in Clarence for more than a year now.

KSLA News 12 tried for several days to speak with Mayor Tommy Evans. But he declined an interview until Wednesday, when he spoke with morning anchor Shayne Wright via phone.

The mayor says Clarence is progressing with a new Dollar General store and a back-to-school bash for the kids.

But he also wanted to address some of the serious allegations against him.

"It wasn't nothing like it is now," Aretha McWright, a longtime resident of Clarence, said of the village.

"This is not right," another resident says of the turmoil.

William Phillips, who was mayor from 1988 to 1995, describes it as chaos.

And he, the police chief, alderwomen and some village residents say the trouble boils down to Evans.

"The mayor doesn't know the difference between being a mayor and a king," Phillips said.

Some residents, including Annie Joseph, think things began to take a turn for worse when Evans was elected last summer.

"Shutting down the Police Department, ignoring the aldermen, refusing to fix the sewage, refusing to do the water."

Evans says it is not him but others who are the source of the disagreements.

"Well, the very best thing that I can tell, we've got council members and the chief of police sabotaging the community."

The conflict involves only about 10 people in the village who never wanted to see him in office, the mayor alleges.

"I was the wrong guy that won the election. ... and the chief of police and the council members have been working against the mayor ever since Day One."

Mayor Evans says earlier this spring, due to a lack of finances,

For instance, Evans said, he tried this spring to cut the water treatment operator position to part time due to the village's lack of finances.

As a result, the mayor says, the operator quit.

Since then, Alderwoman Tamala "Joseph" Chatman says, the village's water treatment facility has become overgrown with vegetation.

Worse still, she says, there has been a boil advisory since April because the presence of fecal matter was detected.

"I told him somebody is going to get sick."

After an inspection in May, the Louisiana health department sent Evans a letter highlighting six violations by the village sewerage system.

The village was cited for improper sewage disposal and a lack of disinfection.

In July, the mayor got a letter citing the village's failure to have a certified operator.

In an ensuing letter, state health officials say they have gotten no response from the mayor and state that a follow-up inspection is coming.

"I speak with the DEQ and the health board personnel at least twice a week," Evans explained.

"They are going to come out and they are going to look at the progress of the oxidation pond.

"We're getting the grass cut out there, but it's got to dry up some."

Chatman says: "Sewer is knee-deep out there."

Evans admits he's been working on the sewage system himself.

"He's not a licensed operator," Chatman claims.

"We have a certified wastewater operator," Evans counters. "He gives me permission, which is legal. He gives me permission to go out to the pond and work along with him.

"We have bids in for contractors, and we're just waiting on the money to be approved to do the major repairs."

When asked if Clarence does, in fact, have a licensed operator, the Louisiana health department responded Thursday:

"The facility does not currently have a Certified Operator that we are aware of. As you saw, LDH has issued the system a violation for this.

Joseph sees it as a health threat.

"We have elderly people, we have babies. I have two grandchildren, great-grandchildren that I keep. I have to make sure that they do not get in the water. They can't wash their hands in the water. They can't drink the water."

The village's problems don't stop there.

For the past two months, Clarence has been without its Police Department.

"There's nothing I can do. I've been trying to work with him," Police Chief Earther Hall says.

Of her department's two officers, the police chief says, one was fired and the other resigned.

Minutes of the village council meeting April 13 show the board approved the termination of one of the officers.

But checks obtained by KSLA News 12 and dated as recently as June 30 show the mayor still was paying that officer with village money.

Hall says Evans didn't agree with the termination.

That's untrue, the mayor countered. He then explained why the officer was paid.

"He had two weeks of vacation and two weeks of sick leave. We paid him for that, and that was the end of his pay."

Evans also claims he was unaware of the council meeting held to approve the officer's termination and he wasn't there.

Meanwhile, the Police Department is now non-existent also due to a lack insurance on its police units.

"I'm letting the citizens down. I feel like I'm letting the citizens down," Hall says.

"But it's not me. He's making me let the citizens down because I can't do my job."

The mayor says the decision to remove the insurance was out of his hands.

"It was the insurance manager's decision to pull the liability insurance for the Police Department due to lack of cooperation with two of the council members and the chief of police."

Chatman alleges that Evans most recently abused his power by sending out a letter last week canceling all council meetings until further notice.

State law requires that open council meetings be held each month.

"Not all the council meetings were canceled. It was just that particular meeting to try and get my meetings under control," the mayor explains.

"There will be a special meeting next week."

Phillips said: "A king makes his own rules, and the people work for the king. The mayor has to follow the rules, and he works for the people and he doesn't understand that yet.

"It's hard to believe that we have a mayor that just refuses to obey any law," Phillips continued. "He don't care anything about these citizens, not a drop, not a thing."

Chatman added: "Me, as an elected official, I feel real bad. I have been trying to find any and everybody that can help the citizens of Clarence."

McWright wants the mayor to know he's not in this game alone.

"He says this is his town and he do what he wants to do. But it's not. I want him to know, it's not your town. We are part of this town. We are the citizens and we deserve better."

Evans wants people to know he's ready and willing to work with the village's other leaders and residents. "I'm willing to work 100% with those people.

"I have no problems," the mayor continued.

"We're all as a team, and we're all public servants. So I'm ready right now as we speak now. Let's come together in the best interest of the community and let's grow together."

Chatman says she has been in contact with the Natchitoches district attorney's office about the situation and hopes for a resolution soon.

Evans added that he wants to thank the Natchitoches sheriff for his assistance with patrols.

Copyright 2017 KSLA. All rights reserved.