City drops speaking time limits

Published 8:23 am Friday, June 24, 2016

Attendants at Tuesday’s Bogalusa City Council meeting got a welcome surprise.

The first resolution up for consideration was introduced by Councilwoman Gloria Kates, and it would have extended the time for public comments from three minutes to five.

The length of public comments has been a point of heated contention for months. As debate was poised to heat up once again, Councilman Doug Ritchie made a motion to amend Kates’ resolution and remove all time limits altogether. Councilwoman Tamira Smith seconded Ritchie’s motion, and the audience broke into applause. During the audience response, Diedre Mixon got up and said she agreed with Ritchie.

“I think it’s a good thing to have no limits because people know not to over-talk. And I think it’s a good thing,” she said.

Other members of the audience agreed, though Foots Quinn said he would like the council to withhold some discretion to limit speakers if things got out of hand.

However, no one from the audience spoke longer than three minutes on the issue.

After the audience spoke, Smith said the origin of the plan came as the result of a phone call.

“Thanks to Mr. Doug, he called me, and I said from day one, let them talk,” she said. Smith explained that most people who address the council have legitimate concerns, and they voted on the council so the council would listen to them.

“Mr. Doug and I went back and forth and it was nothing bad and nothing negative and I said, ‘You introduce it and I’ll second it,” she said.

Kates said she was happy Ritchie made the amendment, and Ritchie said he doubted the new rule will get abused.

“We’re all adults; we’re all responsible,” he said. “… As long as we treat everyone with respect and as long as nobody comes up here and rants and raves for 30 minutes, then I think we can do this. We just need to be kind and loving to each other.”

Ritchie’s amendment passed with only Councilman Andy DeLeon voting against it. He was also the only vote against the resolution itself.

Councilman Teddy Drummond had proposed a resolution to extend the speaking limit from three minutes to four, but after Kates’ amended resolution passed, with Drummond’s vote, he withdrew his proposal.

After that, the council introduced an ordinance to close an undeveloped alley on Avenue I. Councilman Brian McCree pointed out that there is no alley at the location.

“On paper it’s there,” Ritchie said. “That’s why we have to close it.”

The ordinance passed without objection.

The council also introduced a resolution that will increase the license fee from $250 to $1,000 for rolling vendors — sales operations out of carts or vehicles.

Drummond introduced this resolution and he said he wanted to even the playing field between temporary sales operations and the city’s brick-and-mortar stores that have to pay for utilities and have added expenses.

The council then introduced an ordinance that allows garage/yard/estate sales to be held on the first full weekend of each month only, effective Jan. 1, 2017. This also passed unanimously and without comment.

The council then passed an ordinance to allow the mayor to enter into a rent/lease agreement with the successful bidder of Milltown Flea Market for the parcel of property located at East Second Street and Sullivan Drive.

Finally, the council passed an ordinance authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with Northshore General Contractors for lot cleaning and debris removal.

The council also passed an ordinance to amend and re-enact the Comprehensive Building Regulations for the City of Bogalusa.

Following that, the board heard from the public. Theresa Keller had been up first, but when called, she said she no longer wanted to speak.

“Mr Ritchie took all the anger out of me,” she said, and the audience burst out laughing.

Board president Sherry Fortenberry said the board loved her.

“All I can say is thank you, because he showed the first sign of willingness to cooperate,” Keller said.

Then Quinn again addressed the board. He said he wanted to know where he could find paperwork on certain trees in Cassidy Park so he could appropriately mark some of the more noteworthy trees in the park, including the largest persimmon tree there.

After that, Marvin Austin addressed the board and he said the rolling vendor fee that Drummond introduced seemed a bit steep to him, and he wanted to encourage entrepreneurship.

Lamar Fortenberry, whom Sherry introduced later as her son, thanked the board for reaching a compromise on the speaking times and he also thanked the city for fixing a sinkhole on Madison.

After that, Gwendolyn Frances again complained that a water leak which caused her sewer bill to spike has not been resolved. Frances has complained that since the sewer bill is calculated by water usage, residents should get a refund if there is a water leak, because that water doesn’t go to the sewer treatment facility.

Frances also wanted to know when new software would be installed in the city’s water department that will immediately determine when and where there is a water leak, so residents will have a more immediate idea that a problem exists before they get an exorbitant bill.

Ritchie said the software is coming.

“It’s not good for your citizens, when your average citizens here are elderly people or on fixed incomes,” Frances said.

Dorana Newton then got up to speak. Newton said she wanted to address the mayor with a concern, but Perrette was absent on Tuesday. However, she asked the board president what sort of speech would be tolerated from the public, and Sherry Fortenberry said she wouldn’t stop anyone from speaking unless the speech was derogator or disrespectful.

After that, Fate Ferrell asked the board how long Entergy would continue to charge users an “adjustment fee” due to damages from Katrina.

“When will it end,” Ferrell asked the board.

Deleon and Ritchie said that was a question for Entergy.

“It’s time out for that adjustment fee, I do believe. I am asking you all who represent the city to check into that,” he said.

Ferrell also said he is looking forward to next Tuesday’s town hall meeting to discuss city code enforcement.

“Let’s get together you all and straighten some of this stuff out,” he said.

Later in the evening, council members gave their comments. Kates said she wanted to know whether CivicSource is keeping any delinquent fees for homes and properties in Bogalusa that are past due on taxes. She also reminded people that the summer feeding program at St. Paul A.M.E. church is ongoing, and she complimented the city’s police department for their work in District A.

Ritchie then spoke and asked that people not thank him for his amendment to Kates’ resolution.

“Don’t pat me on the back,” he said. “I am for moving this city forward. It’s not for me or about me. … I don’t need a pat on the back or a thank you, I do it because I love my city. I was born here, I have lived here all my life and I will die here.”

Smith spoke and she said she heard of a drug treatment program in St. Tammany Parish called Operation Angel, and anyone who needs addiction help can go to any police station or fire station and get help, free and without risk of self incrimination.

Smith suggested that if anyone knows anyone in that parish who needs addiction help, they could find it through Operation Angel.

“I saw Operation Angel on TV and thought, ‘Why can’t we have that here,’” said Drummond, adding that he’d ask the sheriff about getting the program. “You walk in and tell them you have a problem, no questions asked, and they bring you to the rehab and a lot of them have already had good results. There’s no reason why we couldn’t bring that here.”

The next council meeting will be Tuesday, July 5, at 5:30 p.m. in Bogalusa City Hall.