Town hall meeting held Tuesday

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 25, 2016

A community meeting Tuesday evening brought together about 30 Bogalusa residents to share concerns and seek solutions to a handful of problems.

The meeting was meant to determine the greatest needs in the community, and smaller, more focused future meetings will seek to determine some solutions.

The meeting was organized by Bogalusa city councilman Doug Ritchie and local attorney Bill Arata after Fate Farrell, a longtime attendee of city council meeting, repeatedly asked for a town hall-type of meeting.

The meeting brought out not only the public, but also the Bogalusa city council, the mayor, the fire and police chiefs and members of the city’s school board as well as a representative from Northshore Charter School.

“This is the first time I think you’ve seen in one room at the same time members of the school board and the city council. That’s how important what we’re doing is,” Arata said. He added that this will not be the last such meeting.

The meeting got underway at about 5:30 p.m. and wrapped up after 7 p.m. For much of the meeting, residents, most of whom were city council regulars, spoke about everyday concerns, including education, youth activities, litter and ordinance enforcement and the conditions of the roads.

Paul LeBlanc said that the signs “pardon our progress,” which have been set out along certain streets that are in bad shape, should be taken down.

“Pardon our progress signs are signs you put up when you’re doing something, not when you’re sitting around waiting for something to happen,” he said.

Later in the meeting Mayor Wendy Perrette argued that something is happening, and the city is about to begin repairing the streets near those signs.

Another member of the public, Debbie McClellan, asked the city leaders to consider more walking and bike lanes.

“You’ve got senior citizens and people who don’t drive and it seems that we need to look at ways to make Bogalusa a walking/riding city,” she said. “If we make Bogalusa a healthy place to live and work then that will change the way people see us.”

City parks and recreation director Landon Tims said the city is looking at connecting Cassidy Park to Goodyear Park with a recreational trail.

Ferrell also spoke. He said he is in favor of changing the zoning ordinances or changing the way the codes are enforced because, he said, current enforcement in Bogalusa isn’t changing anything.

“These code laws don’t work,” he said. “You have code enforcement going out writing tickets, but you don’t see anything changing.”

Ferrell specifically mentioned there is a problem with unkempt houses in Bogalusa, as well as drugs and litter.

“If we don’t clean it up were not going to get any jobs in here,” he said. “The trash is so bad your relatives don’t want to come visit you.”

Ferrell’s comments on code enforcement were echoed later in the evening by Stan Luciano, who said he didn’t want to blame city workers for being lax, but he did believe code violations were hurting home values in the community. He said there is one particular “problem home” in the city, though he did not name the owner.

“We’re trying to attract people from St. Tammany Parish into our community, and when they come to this one particular house, it looks like Fred Sanford’s junkyard to be quite honest with you,” Luciano said, referencing the fictional junkyard from the hit 70s sitcom “Sanford and Sons.” “I have brought it to the attention of code enforcement and they’ve knocked on the door, but they’ve obviously not pushed the buttons enough to get the place cleaned up.”

Perrette then addressed the audience and she said the city’s codes are being updated and also she is asking for a crackdown on code violations. Perrette pointed out she hired a second code enforcement officer and tickets have gone from about 20 per month to over 100.

However, she said citizens need to take some responsibility for the cleanliness of Bogalusa. Also, she addressed the issue of the “pardon our progress” signs next to damaged streets.

“We’re currently out for bid on street overlays,” she said. “I am sorry you don’t

like the signs … Our streets were like this a year ago, it didn’t happen overnight.”

Another citizen, Marie Ishman, said she would like to see more recreational opportunities.

“I shouldn’t have to drive to Covington if I want to see a movie,” she said. “I

shouldn’t have to drive to Covington if I want to bowl.”

Later in the meeting, there was a discussion about the proposed community center between city councilman Brian McCree, councilwoman Gloria Kates, Arata and Perrette. McCree and Kates both suggested that the city should invest in short-term projects like playground maintenance and upkeep as well as a long-term goal like the community center, which McCree said he couldn’t see ever actually happening.

“We’ve been talking about this center for a thousand years,” he said. “I think it’s just talk. We have got to put into action getting our kids off the streets and get the kids off drugs.”

Arata said the federal government has offered $8 million for the community center, and he said he’s seen the plan. However, based on that plan he believes it’ll take more than $8 million to build the center, and he asked residents to contact their state representatives to find some funding for the project. He also pointed out that Cassidy Park is going to require time and money to fix after severe flooding destroyed the playground equipment and roadway.

Shortly after this, Bubba Bourne, the owner of Bass Concrete, offered a donation of $5,000 toward Cassidy Park repairs. His gesture was met with a round of applause.

Bourne also said he is a new member of the charter school board, and he believes education is a problem in Bogalusa.

“If we don’t have good education, nobody’s coming here,” he said.

Arata said he identified three areas — recreation, code enforcement and education — for breakout meetings next month. He did not name a date for those meetings, but he said he expects there to be three meetings next month and each month after that to develop a plan to improve those areas.