City takes first step to cracking down on weedy lots

Published 6:52 am Friday, August 19, 2016

The city of Bogalusa is one step closer to tightening regulations on homeowners who ignore overgrown grass and weeds, as the Bogalusa City Council approved the first step in a new ordinance.

The ordinance is a model law drafted by the Louisiana Municipal Advisory and Technical Services Bureau, a division of the Louisiana Municipal Association. If the city council approves the ordinance at its next meeting, the city will pay contractors to clean up weedy, overgrown lots and then attach the bill to the owner’s property tax.

There was some confusion at the council table on Tuesday and it seemed that the ordinance wouldn’t make it next month’s agenda, as Councilman Doug Ritchie first tabled it. He said later he recalled it from consideration because the agenda had labeled the ordinance as a resolution, and it should have been labeled as an ordinance.

He said he is in favor of the idea.

“It’s not that I’m against this, believe me, because I’m 100 percent in favor of it,” he said at the meeting. He said he would bring the matter back in two weeks, with the correct label.

However, after Mayor Wendy Perrette asked the council to amend the agenda and reintroduce the law as an ordinance, Ritchie did so.

“I know a lot of citizens will be happy with this … because it lets them know we are working and moving the city forward,” Council Vice President Tamira Smith said.

After that, Councilwoman Gloria Kates introduced a resolution for the mayor to enter into a contract with the Louisiana Department Transportation and Development for a local road safety project. Kates worked on a proposal to LaDOTD with Councilman Teddy Drummond and the grant will provide money to the city for safety improvements on several roads.

Kates said the city will receive $28,000 and there is no local match requirement. She said the money would pay for safety lights and possible width adjustments in order to reduce collisions.

Following that announcement, the ev. Clarence Abrams said he would like some improvements to streets in the Moton Quarters area.

“You never hear the city council talk about what they’re going to do for Moton Quarters,” he said. “I’ve lived out there for 45 years and only one street’s been repaired and that’s Okechobee.”

Council President Sherry Fortenberry explained that the grant money will not pave streets and will only be used for safety features like signs.

Drummond was on the agenda to introduce an ordinance to allow the mayor to authorize an agreement with vendors for the blues and heritage festival, but he tabled the motion because negotiations are ongoing.

During her scheduled remarks, Perrette announced that the former Walmart building on Cumberland Street has been sold, but she wouldn’t reveal the buyer or what will go in the space.

However, Perrette said the news is good as the city’s tax revenue is down.


Citizens express concerns

The public participation portion of the meeting touched on a number of issues.

Theresa Keller spoke first, and she praised the city’s public works department for fixing 10 potholes in the 1600 block of Lincoln Street.

“If anybody knows the men who did this work, tell them that Mrs. Keller has a case of Cokes for each one of them because I am grateful for what they did,” she said.

However, her praise for the city turned to criticism as she accused the city of committing injustice and discrimination by refusing to spend money on Roosevelt Street.

Several months ago, the parish repaired a portion of North Roosevelt, but residents complain that the city should have fixed the street and that the repairs aren’t good enough because there is loose gravel on the street. In addition, they say tar has been getting on the shoes of the parishioners of Sweet Beulah Baptist Church, which is located on the corner of North Roosevelt.

Keller also said that the city should pave all of Martin Luther King Drive, and she alleged the city only paved the street after a “white person complained about it.”

However, the city had already planned to pave part of the street if it had money left over from another project, prior to any public complaints. Instead of paving a few blocks, the city decided to pave the entire street, though not the sides of the street.

Nevertheless, Keller said she believes Martin Luther King and Roosevelt streets do not get the same amount of attention as other streets, because the city government is racist.

“The city has refused and is refusing to spend one penny on one block where the residents are predominantly black,” said Keller, adding that the city’s paving strategy is angering God.

Another resident, Cheryl Batiste, had a similar complaint.

Stacey Tallitsch then spoke and he suggested that the city operate the state’s official marijuana growing facility. This year, the state legislature expanded access to medical marijuana, though there is still no official grower. Tallitsch said if the Bogalusa became home to the industry, it could significantly improve the tax base here.

Later in the meeting, Cedric Adams read a poem about the city’s streets.

“Our streets are the worst, have you not heard? You say spend our money here instead of there? But look at our streets, does anyone care,” Adams read.

He said the city should pave North Roosevelt.

“A call to the city and all you get is lie lie lie. Look at north Roosevelt it makes you cry,” he said.

After that, Warren Bolds, who is running for the District D seat on the council, said the city needs to come together.

He said neighbors should help neighbors who cannot clean up their properties.

“We fell off the bus when it comes to neighbors’ responsibilities,” he said.

Derana Batiste Newton asked about fixing up the former Voter’s League building, but Perrette said it is a private building owned by a private board, so the city cannot repair it.

Newton then said North Roosevelt should be paved by the city.

“That road is terrible. I would suggest that each council member go and look at
that road and see if that is a road you would want in your neighborhood,” she said.

Joel Miller then spoke, commenting that he is in favor of community policing. He pointed out that the city used to have a community policing program and it worked well at bringing people together.

Miller said he’s also in favor of the LaMAT ordinance, though he suggested the elderly shouldn’t be penalized if they cannot care for their lawns.

“I would like y’all to take into consideration your senior citizens. A lot of them don’t have relatives or anyone to come and cut their yards,” he said.

He also asked the city to clean up a lot near his house. Kates told him work orders have taken but they somehow got lost.

“I’ve tried to jump start a process to get (District A) taken care of,” Kates said. “Apparently there are issues there. That’s why the observational tour was given.”

Kates said another problem is that the public works staff is limited, and she suggested that the city hire more people.

Perrette pointed out that the city still owes “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to the state, is still paying back those loans and cannot afford to hire more people.

Ritchie noted that the lot in question is private property and it is undeveloped. By city law, undeveloped property doesn’t have to be maintained.

“It looks bad,” Miller said.

“I agree with you. I agree with you 100 percent,” Ritchie said.

After that, Fate Ferrell spoke and he suggested the city should fire Public Works director James Hall. He accused Hall, who was absent, of failing to do his job.

“I’ve been in management before, and If I hadn’t done my job in Wisconsin as a leader, I’d have had to go,” he said.

Ferrell said he would leave the city of Bogalusa if things didn’t improve, and he accused the council of not having a vision for the future.

“I’m serious; I’m very serious,” he said.

He then accused Perrette of laughing at him and told her she needs to wake up.

“Wendy, it’s not funny over here,” he said. “I’m a serious person. I’m talking to you.

You need to wake up, smell the coffee and stop being a child as a mayor.”

Fortenberry then gaveled Ferrell to order and Perrette apologized and said she wasn’t laughing at him.

Finally, Marvin Austin spoke and he encouraged the city to clean up the cemetery to show respect to the veterans there, and to preserve the Voter’s League building. He said the city has more money and power than the Voter’s League, so the city should pay to preserve the building.

The next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m.