City council hears talk of pot, potholes

Published 6:31 am Friday, August 5, 2016

The Bogalusa City Council meeting returned to familiar themes Tuesday, as members of the public voiced dissatisfaction over recent paving work on Martin Luther King Drive and Roosevelt Street, litter and town hall meetings.

However, after Terry “Foots” Quinn suggested decriminalizing marijuana, others in the audience also weighed in on drug policy.

But first, the council had to work through its regular agenda. The agenda was light — all eight ordinances were to authorize purchase of air easements next to the airport — though they received audience scrutiny.

Sherwood Bailey, president of ARE Consultants, an engineering and management firm, explained to the council and the audience that the easements would be purchased through one-time payments and they would limit the height of trees on private property near the airport.

“They keep their land, they can keep their mineral rights and they can use it for agricultural purposes with the exception that they cannot grow trees in these safety surfaces,” Bailey said.

Each ordinance reflected the purchase of an easement for each property, and all the eight ordinances were passed unanimously by the council.

Property owners should be getting letters announcing the city’s offer soon, and Bailey said so far as he knows, the property owners are not opposed to the plan.

“We do not know of any objections. If there are some, I believe the letter will bring them up,” Bailey said. “There are several who are very happy with it. You have five who have moved to various parts of the country and in some cases they have isolated, unmanageable pieces of property and this is a way for some of them to get some compensation.”

He also pointed out that some property owners can accept the payment and cut the trees themselves and sell them for timber, making even more money.

Warren Bolds asked if the payments are funded through city taxpayer funds and Councilman Doug Ritchie said they are not — the money comes from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Bolds then asked if the airport makes money for the city, and Ritchie said that it does indirectly as it is a benefit to local businesses, but there are currently no landing fees. However, Ritchie said it is hoped the airport will be more profitable in the future.

“That is the future plan,” he said. Ritchie explained that the airport has to undergo some renovations — including clearing the airspace near the landing strip first — before the city can charge fees.

After the ordinances were passed, Mayor Wendy Perrette offered her administrative remarks.

Among other things, she said Cassidy Park has been seeded and sales tax revenue is down. Perrette encouraged citizens to shop locally.

“I know you can’t get everything here, but when you can get something local, you should,” she said.

Public comments long, varied

After that, the audience was given a chance to speak. Bolds said the city needs “more love,” and also a bowling alley.

Theresa Keller offered praise for law enforcement and the fire department.

“We have one of the best fire and police departments in the country,” she said. “I’d put them up against any other department in the country.”

She said she was sorry Chief Joe Culpepper is retiring.

Keller then said she was not happy with the paving on MLK and Roosevelt. Martin Luther King was paved, but not entirely, as its shoulders are still bare concrete.

The parish roads department paved Roosevelt, but Keller said the paving was done so poorly that it was “a shocking, deliberate slap in the face,” and she noted that “Roosevelt looks like one of those old gravel country roads that lead into the graveyards.”

She added that the road ruined the shoes of church ladies and the church carpet. The section of Roosevelt that was paved is directly in front of Sweet Beulah Church.

“Driving in that ugly gravel is miserable and heartbreaking,” she said. “We’re asking the city of Bogalusa to blacktop North Roosevelt Street. This will correct the mess we have been given. We pay city taxes like the residents on Rio Grande.”

Then, Tawanda Williams spoke. Williams was also critical of the streets, and made the creative choice to speak in rhyme.

“Our city and our streets … some are patched potholes and some are rocks. Some streets look like new shoes, some like old socks,” she said.

Benny Hillard also commented about the poor conditions of the streets.

Later in the meeting, Quinn spoke about a variety of subject. He began by pointing out that the road he lives on, Beall Street, is also in poor condition. Then he talked about the park repairs and lamented that a black cherry tree was run over.

After that, Quinn asked the city police to take a tougher stance on littering and ease up on enforcing open alcohol in vehicles laws, seatbelt laws and all marijuana laws.

“You can drive around with a half full can of beer in your car and get arrested, but if you toss it out on the street, they’ll ignore it,” Quinn said.

Citizens debate marijuana’s   legalization

Quinn saved most of his energy for a full-throated argument favoring wholesale drug legalization. He argued that prohibition didn’t prevent people from drinking and he argued marijuana shouldn’t be considered a drug.

“Marijuana’s not a drug; it’s an herb,” he said.

Quinn pointed out that New Orleans decriminalized marijuana, meaning users can still get ticketed if they’re caught with it, but they generally won’t go to jail for small amounts. Quinn also said marijuana is not a gateway drug.

After that, Marvin Austin lamented the fact that Walmart will soon be closing at 11 p.m.

After Austin spoke, Emma Dixon thanked the city and the community for supporting a recent memorial service at the home of A.Z. Young. Young was a civil rights leader and his home is now marked with a sign.

Dixon said she wanted the sign erected to give neighborhood kids a sense of pride, and she told the council that pride was obvious several weeks ago at the sign’s dedication.

“I saw the youth and how into the event the youth were. They were walking around with their chests puffed out and I suggested some of them write a paper when they go back to school about the place they’re from,” she said.

Dixon was the last person to sign up to speak, but council President Sherry Fortenberry then opened the meeting up to anyone at all who wanted to speak. At this point, Fate Ferrell asked everyone to show up at the next town hall meeting Aug. 10. Ferrell added that he’s in favor of community policing and he hopes the town will figure out a way to clean up drugs and litter.

“We just need to come together with a plan,” he said.

Ferrell said the town meetings are part of that planning process, so it is important everyone show up.

“A town hall meeting is very important to any city,” he said. “But people in Bogalusa don’t seem to want to put their heads together into something that works.

Then Austin returned to speak and he added that he is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

At this point, Perrette got up to leave along with Bailey, to go sign paperwork for Bailey, who had to return to Baton Rouge.

However, this was the second meeting in a row in which the mayor left early — and Ritchie called her out and he said leaving while someone was speaking was disrespectful.

After Perrette left, Austin continued in his defense of drug decriminalization.

“Just don’t write it off what he’s saying,” Austin said, of Quinn. “They have fought the war on drugs the wrong way. We have destroyed the lives of a lot of young people.”

Hillard also gave his opinion. He said that he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, although he supports medical marijuana.

Quinn then tried to respond to Hillard’s comments, but at this point Fortenberry decided to try to gavel the meeting back to order.

Vice President Tamira Smith said citizens should follow Fortenberry’s rules.

“We’re hear to listen to y’all, but you must not speak out of order,” she said. “We’re all grown here and there are rules you have to follow — the same as us.”

After that, council members gave their remarks, and council member Gloria Kates said the town needs a movie theater. She also said she had some “major concerns” about the paving on Roosevelt and she said she’d been on a recent tour of her district, looking for safety issues that could crop up during the hurricane season.

The next city council meeting will be held Monday, Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m.