A Bay St. Louis city work crew on Monday drove a backhoe onto Chris Lagarde's property off Old Spanish Trail to begin a two-day court-ordered clean-up, for which Lagarde will get the bill.
"Ice chests, barbecue pits, yard tools, they took it all, and I don't know that there was any reason for that …," Lagarde said. "I walked away. I knew there wasn't anything I could do."
The Bay St. Louis City Council first declared the property a "public menace" in 2013, kicking off a lengthy battle with Lagarde, who was a long-time special assistant for environmental concerns for former U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor.
"Like so many of us here, once he is your friend, he will do anything for you," Lagarde's friend Joanne Maestri said in a written statement to the Echo this week. "I wish Bay St. Louis could love him half as much as he loves it."
Lagarde has recently had "several serious health scares," Maestri said, but the city "determined that while he was convalescing would be a good time to 'clean up' his property. That's right, his personal property. Admittedly messy … but clean. No vermin. No health threat."
Despite officially "retiring" when Taylor left office, Lagarde has remained a fairly public figure, still fighting for environmental causes, which one of his neighbors said was "ironic," considering the state of his property.
In a public hearing in 2018, one of Lagarde's neighbors told councilmen that his property "looks like a junkyard" and draws rats and snakes that threaten the entire neighborhood.
"I have always admitted I am a mess," Lagarde said at that hearing. "I am a mess, I'll say it again. Yes, I have lots of stuff all over the yard, but I am not a threat to the health and safety of the neighborhood."
"I didn't know this was coming," Lagarde said Tuesday. "I wake up Monday morning, there's a knock on my door, they're here and ready to go. … They got me beat down good this time. They got me. They hauled off my stuff. They even took my trees. … They were stripping the trees out of the front part of my property, which was totally uncalled for. I was trying to grow a bird sanctuary."
Lagarde said he believes the council declared his property a menace as payback for him being a vocal critic of a city official.
"This was absolutely nothing personal," Mayor Mike Favre said Tuesday. "The council went through the process and deemed it a health and safety hazard and they went in and found that years ago," long before Favre was even elected mayor. "The court ordered the city to come in and clean up the property. He had the opportunity to get it done by himself, but he didn't, so we're going in and helping."
It's not the first time Lagarde has had this problem with the city.
In 2003, after a years-long court battle, the city demolished a home he owned on Citizen Street. The house had been heavily damaged by a fire 12 years previously, and a variety of junk materials including an abandoned car was scattered around the property. Lagarde ultimately lost the court battle, and the city took bids and hired a contractor to clear off the lot.
Lagarde says he feels he was at a disadvantage with the latest case because it all took place in municipal court.
"I just think it's a flagrant violation of my constitutional rights," he said. "I go before a city judge, a city code enforcement officer, all paid for by the city, and I don't know how a man can stand a chance."
"It's nothing the city wants to do," Favre said. "We'd rather people work out their own problems, but this has been going on for years."