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The Louisiana City Council decided to not interfere with a municipal court decision ordering the River of Life Church to come into city code compliance for a mobile home on its property at its Monday, May 13 meeting.
City Attorney Robert Rapp and Mayor Tom Wallace said Judge Bruce McGuire’s order to comply by June 3 takes precedence in the matter and the council should not create a separation of powers problem by stepping into the issue.
City councilman Bart Niedner said he understood the church was in violation of city codes for installing a septic tank for the mobile home instead of hooking up to the city sewer system. The mobile home was also installed without a city permit.
But Niedner said he wanted to send a letter to McGuire in conjunction with the church to try and extend the court order and create a workable situation for all due to misunderstandings.
However, Niedner’s motion to draft that letter was denied in a 4-4 vote split, with Wallace breaking the tie by voting against it.
Niedner and council members Sal Pollice, Kathy Smith and Chuck Hoffman voted for the letter. Councilmen Larry White, Russell Stephens, Monroe Elliott and Jim Woods voted against it.
“It’s tied and I decide the deciding vote,” Wallace said. “No.”
The controversy around the mobile home began last September after Stark Bro’s owner Cameron Brown said it was spoiling the view of the firm’s historic cabin in western Louisiana. Brown said the mobile home should be moved or he would move the cabin.
The controversy reignited at a May 1 city Board of Adjustment meeting, where mobile home occupants Bob and Sharon Shepard asked for a special use exception for the dwelling. The Shepards run the church’s thrift store directly in front of the mobile home on Georgia Street.
The Board of Adjustment cited Judge McGuire’s decision, that the dwelling was illegal and that it could not rule on the exception request. The board also said the full city council should weigh in on the matter.
Shepard family members and others said the city should reassess the situation because they were initially told by Board of Adjustment Chairman Porter Elliott that the trailer was on county property and not a city concern.
Elliott denied saying that, but Justin Sheppard, the son of church CEO Mark Sheppard, reiterated at the council meeting that he had.
Sheppard also said that City Administrator Bob Jenne had told him “to put skirting up,” around the mobile home last August.
“Oh no, no way,” Jenne answered.
The son of the trailer occupants, Lew Shepard, gave an emotional speech at the council meeting as well, asking that his disabled parents not be thrown out of their home.
“You people are messing with two people who serve the Lord,” Shepard said. “Please take this to heart and think about this.”