By Corey Poole
Disagreements arose over most of the items on the Parish Council agenda for its meeting May 16.
Through the course of the meeting, it was stated that Council members and attendees alike were chasing rabbits. Payne subdivision resident Cassius Longmire walked out of the meeting after debating fund distribution from Item No.8 with Councilman Rodney Bedgood. Chairman Russell Rachal struck the gavel on multiple occasions as Bedgood tried to explain how the Community Water Enrichment Fund Grant application process works.
Longmire had previously spoken to the Council, when it opened the floor to visitor comments, about the road, drainage, lighting and signage problems in the subdivision.
“Help us become a better community,” he said.
Opening and closing a public hearing for comments on the adoption of Item No. 10 and 11 proved to be an arduous task.
Item No. 10 was passed easily enough. The $12,000 monthly savings the Parish is collecting from the new agreement with the Sheriff’s Office will be transferred from the General Fund to the Highway Fund. These savings, which are in excess of $50,000 after the first few months will supplement the regular Parish budget for material purchases and equipment. According to Public Works Director Nick Verret, the Parish has already expended $300,000 on storm damage repairs and the savings will also supplement this expended money until the Parish is reimbursed by FEMA.
Councilman Chris Paige wanted to be certain that when they voted to move the money, it was with the understanding that none of it would go toward employee salaries.
Item No. 11 was harder than its predecessor. It asked the Council to consider adopting an ordinance to establish a policy for the order of business to be followed by the Parish Council at meetings, including the receipt of public comments.
Rachal assured the Council that this ordinance isn’t about getting around hearing comments, but to focus those comments on agenda items. Paige, who feels limiting public comments would alienate their constituents, said if the members voted to change the comment policy, it would come back to bite them. However, Councilwoman Patsy Ward Hoover agreed there needs to be some type of limitation on the public comments. While Rachal, as chairman, is the de facto enforcer of rules, Hoover recommended setting a 10-minute limit and increasing it if necessary by a majority vote.
“We have no dictatorship here,” she said. “We are a body.”
The Council then realized that Hoover had an original copy of the ordinance that had additional information. Rachal said it was revised per a recommendation by the District Attorney’s office, but Hoover was upset that the Council members didn’t have any input in the process.
Paige motioned to table Item No. 11 until next month’s meeting. Rachal voted no, but it passed with the majority vote.
The next controversial item was No. 14, which asked the Council to consider approving the submittal of a request for a 1.8 percent cost of living increase for all Head Start employees. The $40,753 grant is available through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which contains an increase of $570 million for programs under the Head Start Act. A portion provides the cost of living adjustment.
Hoover claimed some of her constituents have said the administration at the courthouse would receive this raise as well. Hoover then suggested that the Head Start Program needed its own accountant. Nowlin said Hoover was welcome to go through the Head Start budget and find things to cut so they could hire one.
After claiming Nowlin was being facetious, Hoover said the answer was to cut the salaries of some of the people in administration.
However, Nolin explained that that having one organization responsible for the Head Start accounting and the Parish accounting resolved a lot of discrepancies in the records and generated a savings of $30,000 for the Head Start Program.
Paige abstained from voting on Item No. 14 but it passed with the majority vote.
Verret claimed he thought the Council was moving on to a more uncontroversial topic when they reached item No. 13. This item asked for the Council to consider authorizing the Parish Highway Department to scarify selected deteriorated paved roads throughout the Parish. Numerous paved roads in the system haven’t been overlaid in over 40 years and can no longer be maintained as paved roads. They are considered “failed” roads and no longer have viable paved surfaces.
Pardee Road resident John Hodgson said he’s ready to secede from the Parish if the highway department attempted to scarify his road.
Parish President Rick Nowlin said this decision shouldn’t be forced on anyone and Bedgood agreed.
“If they don’t want it, don’t do it,” he said.
Attorney Cloyd Benjamin said it would take a vote of the Council to make such major infrastructural changes such as the total excavation of a road.
Verret claims it’s logical to aggregate these roads and make them easier to maintain.
“Honestly, we’re really throwing money away on these roads,” he said.
Sections of Posey, Sisson, Sylvest and Harmony roads were scarified in 2015 and Verret said these sections have continued to hold up well despite the abundant rainfall over the past few weeks. Problems arose when residents opposed the department’s efforts to perform the work on additional roads.
The following roads contain sections that are being considered for scarifying: arterial roads- Clark, Lake Gorum, Old River, and Robeline-Provencal; collector roads- Bayou Derbonne and Maricelli; and local roads- Douglas Drive and Sisson Road.
After a lengthy discussion, the item was tabled until next month’s meeting.
In other news Item No. 12 passed, which asked the Council to consider adopting a resolution approving the issuance, sale and delivery by the Waterworks District No. 2 of its $6.6 million refunding bonds to provide debt service savings. John Brittain said refinancing the debt would decrease the interest from 4 to 3.2 percent, which makes for a $600,000 savings on interest.
Item No. 15 was a proclamation making May 21 Ophelia Dumars Day.