By J. Q. Collectif/Opinion
I read all of the coverage on the Parish Council meeting that took place last Monday night and my level of apprehension has grown with each day. There are a few things that should be blatantly obvious to anyone who pays attention to the Parish government.
First, if the residents of the Parish were able to grade the performance of Mr. Nick Verret as Director of Public Works, he’d fail miserably. The Council members point out on a regular basis that they have no control over Parish employees, as well they shouldn’t. Parish residents, however, do. They can call for Mr. Verret’s resignation. It’s your tax dollars that pay his salary. Stop accepting excuses and demand better.
Second, it is quite obvious that the Parish Council is being hijacked by the three former Police Jurors who now hold Council seats. During the meeting, Councilwoman Patsy Ward Hoover admitted to filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office against Council Chairman Russell Rachal. While Mrs. Hoover has every right to contact the A. G. office, you should be asking what her motive was. The complaint pertained to Mr. Rachal removing an item placed on the Agenda by Mrs. Hoover and alleged that Mr. Rachal was trying to keep the public from having input at the meetings. If these were Mrs. Hoover’s concerns, why did she not first seek an opinion from the office of the District Attorney, their legal counsel? Perhaps Mrs. Hoover thought the investigation by the A. G. would cause Mr. Rachal to throw his hands up in the air and call it quits.
If that was her motive, the tactic backfired on her. Mr. Rachal, after being told by the D.A.’s office that he would have to seek outside counsel as it appeared the complaint was against him and not the whole Council, hired an attorney and filed a response to the investigation. That response resulted in the investigation being closed. The A.G.’s office also informed Mr. Rachal that their investigation involved all of the Council members as a whole body. Because of that, Mr. Rachal is entitled to reimbursement for the legal fees he advanced defending the Council. That means that we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for reimbursing Mr. Rachal.
The meeting concluded with Coucilpersons Paige, Bedgood and Hoover adjourning the meeting after refusing to go into executive session. Executive session matters are discussed behind closed doors; without the public; and there is no official record of what gets discussed. So, why did the three of them refuse to address the issue at hand?
I believe Coucilpersons Paige, Bedgood and Hoover have all expressed their desire to see this Parish fail because they cannot recognize their value as members of the Council. They seem to forget that they represent the people and not themselves. Since Natchitoches Parish changed its form of government, at least three other parishes have either completed or begun the process of changing their forms of government. Perhaps the problem isn’t our form of government but rather the fact that they have no vision for being part of the solution!
Finally, there is a very important tax initiative on the ballot this fall. Councilman Doug de Graffenried asked a crucial question last Monday night, “When is the highway barn going to have to close?” In case you weren’t paying attention, he was raising a red flag. Two years of federally declared disasters have pushed the Highway Department’s budget to the brink. Mr. Verret responded with some confidence that he felt that the department would be able to remain open through the end of the year.
My response to that is, “That’s great, but what about 2017 and the years that follow?” Anyone who knows anything about budgets knows that you must have money in reserve to account for unexpected expenses and gaps in receivables. The Highway Department is funded by ad valorem tax revenues. Those revenues don’t get deposited on January 1st and they don’t get deposited in a lump sum. And, it would be extremely foolish to assume that the Parish won’t experience another weather related disaster in the coming months or years. Without another source of revenue for the Highway Department, the roads will continue to deteriorate; industry will continue to stay away from the Parish; and fire, police and medical response workers will not be able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. Our road system is dying and we, the residents of Natchitoches Parish, are accountable for its revival.
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