Parish Council calls for elections

FRANKLIN — In a busy meeting Wednesday, the St. Mary Parish Council called for two elections, including one that could open the two council leadership positions to any member of the 11-member council.

The council took the first steps toward turning over the operation of Fairview Treatment Center and Claire House in Bayou Vista and the St. Mary Drug Court to Odyssey House of Louisiana Inc.

Members voted to focus for now on a proposed council district map that keeps part of Berwick in District 8, which now includes Amelia, portions of Morgan Center as well as part of Berwick.

The council also invited postmasters serving west St. Mary and Registrar of Voters Byron Stelly to find out why voter registration cards have been delivered to polling sites and not to the voters they belong to.

Voters
Councilman Craig Mathews of Jeanerette held up what he said was about a dozen voter registration cards mailed to the West St. Mary Civic Center polling site rather than the voters to whom they were issued. Other cards have been mailed to other West St. Mary polling sites, he said.

“This is terribly concerning to me and should be concerning to all of us,” Mathews said.

Mathews said Stelly told him that the matter is out of the registrar staff’s hands. And Mathews said he didn’t receive a satisfactory reply from the Franklin postmaster.

New voters won’t know their precinct assignments, and voters whose assignments have changed won’t know it, Mathews said.

If voters don’t know where to vote, “you’re talking about a catastrophe that’s going to happen in St. Mary Parish,” Mathews said.

Elections

The council passed Councilman J Ina’s ordinance 9-1, calling for a Dec. 10 election on a proposed charter amendment that would allow any council member to be elected to the chairman and vice chairman posts each year.

Eight of the 11 council members are elected from geographic districts. Three more are elected at large. The council meets at the beginning of each year to elect a chair and vice chair.

The current charter limits the leadership posts to members elected from at-large districts.

Dr. Kristi Prejeant Rink of Centerville is the current chair. Gwendolyn Hidalgo of Bayou Vista is the vice chair. The third at-large member is Dean Adams.

During the leadership election in January, Ina of Franklin renewed his objection, saying the leadership should be open to any council member.

Proposed charter amendments require a two-thirds majority, or eight votes, to win approval from the council. Two previous attempts to remove the limitation had failed by close margins.

But on Wednesday, the proposed amendment passed with only Hidalgo’s dissenting vote. Councilman Patrick Hebert of Berwick was absent.

The council also passed a resolution calling for a Dec. 10 election to fill the unexpired portion of Constable David Compton’s term. Compton, who serves the Charenton area, resigned effective June 6.

The council appointed Anna Perry to be interim constable.

The resolutions will be submitted to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office for inclusion on the ballot.

Odyssey

The council passed an ordinance leasing its Fairview and Claire House facilities to Odyssey House and authorized Parish President David Hanagriff to enter a cooperative endeavor agreement with the New Orleans-based organization to operate the local centers and drug court.

Odyssey House gets its name from the ancient Greek hero who endured years of trial and torment on his way home from the Trojan war. Odyssey House CEO Edward C. Carlson told the council that his organization can help overcome the trials faced by people undergoing the trials of addiction.

“It’s Odyssey House’s philosophy to treat the person, not just the addiction,” Carlson said.

Odyssey’s services include prevention, treatment, physical and mental health care, life skills and vocational training, counseling, case management, and transitional housing.

Remapping

The council approved a motion by Adams to focus deliberations on a district remapping proposal that leaves portions of Berwick in the same District 8 that also covers Amelia and parts of Morgan City.

Wednesday’s action does not mean the council has settled on a final map. It centers future discussion on portions of two of the three alternative maps submitted by the South Central Regional Planning and Development Commission, hired by the council to handle redistricting based on the 2020 Census.

The three alternative maps divide the area west of the Wax Lake Outlet into three districts and the area east of the outlet into five districts

West of the cut, members Mathews, Ina of Franklin and Rodney Olander of Franklin have settled on alternative 1. That map stretches District 1, now represented by Mathews, around Franklin and down to Verdunville.

Under that proposal, District 1 and Ina’s District 2 would have African American majorities of at least 54.5%.

In the east, alternative 1 keeps District 8, represented by Mark Duhon, east of the Atchafalaya, and in alternative 3, District 8 picks up Lakeside subdivision voters with more of Berwick going into District 6, represented by Hebert.

Alternative 2 increases District 8’s portion of the Berwick-Bayou Vista area.

Duhon has said he wants the district to continue to include Berwick. Hebert is hoping for a more compact District 6 focusing on Berwick.

Adams’ motion adopts alternative 1 as the working plan to the west and alternative 2 in the east.

Olander noted that Hebert was absent and suggested putting off the vote until Hebert could attend.

But the council moved ahead with the vote on Adams’ motion, which passed 6-4.

Adams, Duhon, Rink, Ina, Leslie “Les” Rulf and James Bennett voted yes. Hidalgo, Mathews, Olander and Scott Ramsey voted no.
Mathews proposed an amendment substituting the alternative 3 plan favored by Hebert. The amendment failed 6-4.

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