City, citizens must share cleaning duty

Published 8:28 am Friday, June 24, 2016

The city council on Tuesday made the right call when they allowed free public speech.

First, the vote meant a lot to a lot of people, and that’s important. Second, it showed a willingness to compromise by some on the board who had initially opposed any increase in public participation time. I hope this positive energy holds through next week, when citizens and our elected officials will meet Tuesday evening to discuss blight.

Blight is nobody’s friend, and it would seem that everyone would be of one mind on the matter. And yet, the solution to minor legal infractions is often more complex than it first seems. Ticketing, for instance, is not always the solution to problems. The fact is, we live in a poor community and fining homeowners (or renters) for not maintaining their properties and vehicles might not be productive and it could wind up hurting more than a few people.

If, for instance, a yard is unkempt because the owner is elderly and/or financially unable to care for the yard, a ticket would solve nothing and would merely penalize someone for being poor, which isn’t fair.

Of course, the city should fine people who have the ability to pay those fines. No one should be given a pass if they are simply lazy or ignorant of the laws. However, I suspect there are at least a few homeowners and renters who don’t have the ability to make major repairs or, in some instances, even keep the yard cut. In addition, there are also lots that are abandoned and ought to be cleaned up. It’s fine to fine those owners, if they can be found, but fining some distant relative who may not live in the area hardly seems like a precursor to action.

What, then, is the solution to cleaning up abandoned lots and helping the elderly care for their property? I suggest churches and civic groups — the ROTC, the Boy Scouts — should volunteer to help out. Even clearing and cleaning two yards a week would begin to make a small difference in some neighborhoods, and while none of this is ideal, I suspect it will make more of an impact than simply issuing fines to those who cannot pay or cannot maintain property.

But homes are not the only problem. Businesses, too, should be encouraged to keep up appearances. To that end, our Chamber of Commerce should begin a “Business of the Month” campaign or a Beautiful Business program, rewarding businesses each month that make some effort to present an attractive business front.

Finally, the city should consider joining the state’s Main Street Program. The program offers thousands of dollars in grants, including façade grants, which are match grants. These grants can pay for up to $10,000 for whatever exterior improvements owners of historic buildings might want and the program is an easy way for cities to bring in tens of thousands of dollars to revitalize historic shopping districts.

Bogalusa was once a member of the program, but the local office was shuttered due to cost. I understand the city doesn’t have money to join the program this year and maybe we won’t have money to join next year, either, but our city should plan on joining the program again at some point.

According to state director Ray Scriber, most programs are operated as nonprofit entities and supported by a team of volunteers, although he pointed out the program would still need at least one person on salary to lead it.

Just as orderly city meetings depend on cooperation between the public and the council members, a clean, tidy community depends on cooperation between the city, private citizens and civic society.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.