Staying the Course

Joe Cunningham, III

Joe Cunningham, III

We have sat through the first term of a new parish council and, more importantly, a parish president in Natchitoches Parish. The transition from one form of government, the police jury, to the other, a president-council (a transition I took active part in helping create), went smoothly despite the crying out of those who lost a tremendous amount of power. It’s just not fair, after all, for those with power to lose it. They feel themselves entitled to that power.

The crying out by several of the old police jurors was due in large part to the fact that they lost a big part of their power to a new parish executive, and in the case of Natchitoches, one who had experience in government prior to running for that job.

As we approach this coming election cycle, we see two names preparing to run for parish president. One of those men already holds the office, and the other has said openly that he wants to take the parish back to the police jury system. After just four years. Much like a teenager today, the prevailing sentiment is that it’s just too hard to make it work.

It’s not working immediately, and therefore we should go back to the old ways, which also didn’t work. That kind of logic is astounding. A parish government with more than a dozen representatives and no captains to steer the ship. A simple majority can shut things down quickly and permanently. That sounds like a much better option than have a legislative body and an independently operating executive, doesn’t it?

The police jury had left parish government with more than $300,000 worth of debt, and there was no trust in parish government for any sort of tax to get passed. The fiscal year budget for 2014 saw a spending decrease of more than $200,000. Two years’ worth of those kinds of saving would wipe out that deficit. With the cuts and restructuring of parish government, a chunk of the parish’s debt to the sheriff’s department for the detention center was paid in 2014. Furthermore, extra money was saved given that the current parish government was not using parish money for political battles. The police jury wasted parish money to fight the change to a new form of government, costing the parish a decent amount by forcing an election when it could have piggybacked off a statewide or federal election.

So, while one candidate says “It’s not working,” another candidate has shown us it can work. Rick Nowlin has affected a great deal of change in the parish, and to foolishly throw that change away because John Salter says it’s too hard would hurt the parish in ways only the police jury could. So, ask yourself if the police jury needs to come back and bring that kind of pain to Natchitoches Parish again. If you think they don’t, then you don’t need John Salter.

7 thoughts on “Staying the Course

  1. All of these comments are very interesting and definitely point out the failure of people to recognize the critical point of why we have elections and why we have a home rule form of government in lieu of the failed police jury form. Its all about leadership and paying attention to the needs of all citizens of Natchitoches Parish. Leadership is a unique skill that can only be obtained by doing smart things and doing the right things necessary to realize positive results. Positive results was not the experiences realized from the former Police Jury in Natchitoches Parish; and to the best of my knowledge, there was never a balanced budget (instead a tremendous amount of wasteful spending and utilization of resources). Leadership also comes from a sound education and ability to think and solve problems. Leaders know how to listen and show compassion when appropriate. Leaders do not constantly get into squabbles and arguments that stifle progress and getting things done. Natchitoches Parish needs to continue with the great leadership it has been blessed with. To say that there has not been talk by a couple of our Council members to go back to the days of police jury form of government suggests a lack of awareness or complete denial. The citizens of Natchitoches Parish spoke loud and clear when Home Rule was voted in and there is no going back. Therefore, leadership must be and can only be about moving forward and building on the accomplishments and improvements that have taken place under our new Parish-Council form of government.

  2. .

    The two men vying for the Parish President’s job are so opposite. The incumbent Rick Nowlin is a professional engineer, a businessman and a former state representative. He has managed an underfunded parish road system, with substantial debt, and managed to operate with a balanced budget. Some uninformed souls sneer at that, but if that is his crime, I’m sure he’ll accept the conviction.

    The second man in the race is John Salter. He was a member of the police jury several times. Though he seemed dedicated to being on the jury, in 2003, he did resign (so far without explanation) midterm. After a time he sought the jury seat again and was elected. Due to that resignation, he was not on the jury for all of the final 20 years of the jury. A period of time when the jury failed to operate within its budget for 18 of those 20 years. He says that’s what he wants to go back to. He was president of the jury that final year in 2011. In the final month of its woeful history and at the behest of Salter, almost $900,000 was spent on about seven roads. It was either sabotage of the incoming Home Rule Charter or simply political favoritism. Nothing new here, that’s exactly how the jury had wasted the taxpayer’s money for decades, and how the jury fought political battles.

    I think everybody wants better roads, but governments just like households must operate within a budget. Rick Nowlin seems committed to that while John Salter says the HRC is “too hard” and wants to revert back to the ways of mismanagement and fraught with political payback among jurors. Well, the latter has been tried for over century and it failed.

  3. They Jury may very well work in 50% of the state, but if you take a look at the history of Natchitoches parish it is clear it didn’t work here. And after only ONE full term of our new form of government there has been a change in the right direction. A direction we have not gone in for a very long time. The debt is being paid down. The jury was 300,000.00 in the hole and with just the Detention center debt paid down by 200,000.00 that’s a half a million dollar swing in the right direction there.We are going in the right direction right now no need for change. Mr. Nowlin is doing the right things and getting the results we need.

  4. Joe, I am not sure where you are getting your information from about Mr. Salter, but there are some glaring problems with what you are saying.

    1. Just for the moment, say he is elected. John would not have the power to make us go back to the old system. That would require a vote of the people. A group of citizens can petition the parish to do so and they would have to act based upon the wishes of the citizens if that were to happen and ask the people to vote on it. Before a vote could happen, the justice department would have to be brought in and the district lines would have to be addressed to them before anything else could happen. You are talking about a process that would take several years to accomplish.

    2. Where have you heard the man say he will take us back to the Police Jury system, Please cite dates and where he spoke it. I have talked to the man several times and asked him, he informed me that he would not have that power, but if a group of citizens expressed interest in it, he would be obligated to listen to their concerns.

    3. You speak of the debt to the sheriff’s office, which was in the ballpark of around $1 Million when the new government took over. At last check, the parish still owes around $800K. With all this money that is being saved, why is that debt not being paid down faster? And how can anyone say we have a balanced budget in this parish with that debt staring us in the face?

    I commend both Mr. Nowlin and Mr. Salter for running clean grassroots campaigns. I have not heard either man publicly throw mud at the other what I am disgusted at is the mudslinging by supporters of Mr. Nowlin at John Salter. ESPECIALLY by people that do not even live in this parish. Not one of these people have called Mr. Salter and asked about these allegations, I know this because I have and I have also asked has he spoken to these people who are saying these things.

    Take the mudslinging back to Baton Rouge and Washington where it is expected. The people of Natchitoches deserve to have a choice to vote and not have to deal with half truths being put out there for the basis of trying to get a man elected!!!

      • Also, the man has a right to his own opinion if he feels we should be back on the police jury system, I know I think we should, it works for over half the parishes in this state including all but 2 in the northern part, save for Caddo and Natchitoches. It does NOT mean however John would have the power to change it should he be elected.

        I also wonder if Mr Nowlin shares your same views on this, as I said, he has not attacked people in the manner a lot of people that do not even live in Natchitoches parish have done. Why not tell us the good he can do for the people of Natchitoches instead of basing John at every given opportunity

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