Racism alleged at city meeting

Published 5:42 am Friday, March 10, 2017

In a meeting Tuesday punctuated by allegations and denials of racism, mostly about a street in a black neighborhood that has been repeatedly skipped over for being blacktopped, the Bogalusa City Council tabled one agenda item and passed all others. Also Tuesday, Councilman Brian McCree publicly announced his intention to run for the office of mayor in 2018.

Gloria Kates tabled her amendment to an ordinance to prohibit smoking in workplaces and public places in Bogalusa after citizen Phillipp Bedwell pointed out that, as written, the prohibition would include all of Cassidy Park, as well as any parades and festivals.

Bedwell also said, “We need to get the government out of private business. That’s their business, not the government’s business.”

Kates said she and a committee had worked to make the smoking ordinance “more friendly, deleting more of our outside places.” But the amendment in the meeting packet was not the updated version. Kates later said she made a motion to table the item due to “the technicality.”

An ordinance that would authorize payment of overtime to department heads who work during an officially called state of emergency needed some clarification as well. After resident Theresa Keller took the stand to ask the council “to form a committee to study this situation, since you are constantly saying Bogalusa has no money,” Mayor Wendy Perrette said the funding for the overtime would come from FEMA.

“It’s a federal policy they asked us to put in place,” Perrette said. “It came from the governor’s office. The reason we’re not being reimbursed now is that we have no policy. This is learning from a mistake. This is for the future.

“The highest paid department heads make not much. This is not coming out of the city budget.”

When Keller heard that, she said, “Now that you have told me the money’s not coming from Bogalusa, I’m 100 percent behind it. If there is anything we can get from the federal government, we need to get it.”

McCree voted against the measure. All others voted in favor, with council vice-president Doug Ritchie and councilman Teddy Drummond absent.

During the public speaking period, Keller got back up and said, “this city is being destroyed with prejudice” and that “the goal seems to be turning the black community into a ghetto.” She spoke of “black tax dollars” and “white tax dollars” and complained that Roosevelt Street, in the area of Sweet Beulah Baptist Church, has been long overdue to be blacktopped.

Terry “Foots” Quinn rose to say that Keller had some good points, “but one point caught my attention.” Quinn said there are not totally black and totally white neighborhoods in Bogalusa. He said he spends a lot of time in Cassidy Park, and that “most people” who visit the park, which is in a predominantly white area, “are black.”

Perrette also responded.

“The only race I’m fostering is the human race,” she said. “We’re all in this together. You’re the one fostering racism. I’m appalled you came up here and said that, fostering hate.

“I’m a woman and a bi-racial woman. I wouldn’t be where I am if that was true.”

Kates later added, “We do have a lot of work to do in Bogalusa. We do have demographics. On Roosevelt Street a blacktop was requested, but no action was taken by the city.”

She said the matter has “gone back and forth” through different city administrations, spanning more than a decade.

Reportedly, the current city administration is concentrating the roadwork in the highest traffic areas and main thoroughfares to attract business and industry and due to budget concerns, and the section of Roosevelt Street only has high traffic on Sundays.

Perrette said Wednesday, that the parish, at no cost to the city, had done not just a two-shot, but a three-shot repair of the 1400 block of Roosevelt last June. The three-shot process includes a layer of rock, then tar, then rock and tar and finally pea gravel.

In June, The Daily News reported that parish transportation manager Donnell Merritt said the three-shot process might not be as “pretty” as a blacktopped, asphalt road, but will last longer. “It outlasts an overlay job because it’s more flexible,” Merritt said. “It’s not just pretty on top.”

Perrette said the city had come in behind the parish to scrape up the excess rocks.

Current director of public works, James Hall, said Wednesday that he plans to “finish the job” by sealing the roadway. He noted that he had planned to do it last week, but couldn’t due to the rainy weather.

“We’re doing everything we said we would,” Hall said.

He said that approximately 10 years ago he wanted to “piggyback” the Roosevelt Street project on the Willis Avenue roadwork project, but when Temple-Inland paid for that project, he couldn’t do it.

“The problem is there are streets in this city that are 10 times worse,” he said.

Later in the meeting, McCree told Keller, “I hope you live long enough to vote for me for mayor.”

Also, the council approved a rezoning request from B-Business to C-Commercial at 933 Ave. F, and a zoning request from A3-Residential to C-Commercial off Sullivan Drive. It also approved closing an undeveloped property adjacent to Johnny Hodges property on Avenue G.