Candidates for mayor join Thursday debate

Published 4:03 am Saturday, September 8, 2018

Editor’s Note: The candidates’ responses to the first three debate questions are published today. Answers for Questions 4-5, and opening and closing statements, will be published in the Wednesday, Sept. 12, edition of The Daily News.

The five candidates for Bogalusa mayor debated for a little more than one-and-a-half hours Thursday, detailing plans for their administration and making their cases for citizens to vote for them, during a public debate held at Bogalusa High School’s auditorium.

The debate was sponsored by a local group, CECI (Citizens for Education and Community Improvement). Ardie Cesario served as the moderator and Tiye Yayu was the timekeeper.

The mayoral candidates present were Brian McCree, James “Mack” McGehee, current mayor Wendy Perrette, Tina Ratliff and Doug Ritchie. Ratliff arrived about 15 minutes late, but apologized and said she needed to take a young man to New Orleans for rehab, and it took her longer than she expected to return.

Each of the candidates gave a one-minute introductory statement, took turns answering five questions and gave a three-minute closing statement. The five questions were chosen from suggested questions made by citizens through a local Facebook page. No candidates were allowed to see the questions in advance.

While the debate participants occasionally disagreed on issues, voices were never raised and confrontational language was avoided. There were small vocal outbursts from individual audience members at times, but the candidates and remaining audience members mostly ignored them.

Following the debate, Cesario praised the participants for their good behavior.

“Nobody attacked each other,” he said. “They attacked issues. As far as I am concerned, every one of them is a winner.”

Approximately 100 people were in the audience for the event.

Each candidate was allowed three minutes to answer his or her question. The order of candidate answers was changed for each question, in order to allow each candidate the opportunity to go first one time.

A summary of the candidates’ answers to the first three questions follows:


Question 1 — Cities are judged on their appearance and their cleanliness. Visitors should feel welcome and travelers should want to stay. What community initiatives or code enforcements do you plan on implementing, if any, to improve Bogalusa’s overall aesthetic? And what commitments can you make to ensure ordinances imposed are fairly enforced and proper follow-through is implemented?

McGehee: McGehee pointed out that during his previous administration, city employees removed 600 blighted houses in 12 years. He noted there are probably “another 600” that need to be removed today.

“You hire the proper people with the proper equipment and the proper knowledge to remove these houses,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to clean this place up.”

Ritchie: Ritchie said that one of the problems is that the city owns property that is adjudicated and has no buildings on the land.

“I cannot understand why we can’t start at least cleaning those properties up,” he said. “We could start cleaning those areas up first, as we work on the blighted housing.”

Ritchie also said that all citizens have to be welcoming and kind to newcomers and visitors, in order to make Bogalusa attractive.

McCree: McCree suggested that the city should purchase some blighted properties, clean them up and rent them to lower-income citizens.

He also stated that the city needs improved streets in order to be more attractive to visitors and outsiders.

“Some of these houses we’re tearing down are not that bad,” McCree said.

Perrette: Perrette noted that the state Department of Environmental Quality had prohibited Bogalusa from tearing down any blighted houses, between 2010 and 2017. She said in 2017 the city was able to work with Toye Taylor and several other state representatives to learn a cost-effective way to turn down blighted houses.

She said that since October, the city has torn eight houses down.

“DEQ has said that we are paying for past mistakes, still,” Perrette said.

Perrette also said she was pleased that the city was a semifinalist in the recent Cleanest City Contest in the state of Louisiana.

Ratliff: “I would definitely implement plans that would take away the blight in our city and give it back in the hands of people that would care for the properties,” Ratliff said. “I would also give our youth the opportunity to own some of these properties, otherwise it would continue to get further and further in dilapidation.”

Ratliff also said she would like to implement programs that would ensure all neighborhoods are cleaned up and improved, and not just a few neighborhoods.


Question 2 — In reference to jobs and businesses, what must we as a city do to see economic growth? And how are you prepared to help make that growth a reality? Being that the city has financial difficulties, how do you plan to create resources and address issues where there are no funds allocated?

Ritchie: Ritchie said that business would not come to Bogalusa until the city’s appearance is addressed. “We’ve got to clean up our city,” he noted.

He suggested that there should be a sustainable program to rehabilitate local roads, rather than necessarily re-pave them.

“You start doing those things; businesses will come,” he said.

He also said that the city needs to take a critical look at some of the outsourcing it has done in recent years.

“I’m not certain that we can’t do a better job of picking up our own garbage,” Ritchie said. “I think that we spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million a year just to have our garbage collected. And I think that we can do it, ourselves, for a lot less than that. I think that we can also look into the possibility of recycling our garbage.”

McCree: McCree said that the city needs to look closer at how it spends its money.

“I was looking over the audit,” he said. “We’ve got credit cards being spent, with no receipts coming back. Only God knows what they’re being spent on — we have to hold those people accountable with our money.”

McCree also said that the city “needs to go back to the drawing board” on its trash collection services contract. He said it was initially signed in 1989, when the population was 14,000 and now the population is “11,000 at best.”

He also expressed his belief that Cassidy Park could be an economic engine for Bogalusa, by hosting more festivals and music events.

Perrette: The incumbent mayor noted that her administration had helped to recently secure a $261-million Calpine energy plant that will create approximately 225 construction jobs in the next three years. She also pointed out that General Dynamics has a contract through 2021 at the industrial park, and that company employs approximately 600 jobs.

“As a city, we have opened our doors and made any attempt to make things better and bring jobs to our city,” she said. “There’s more coming — stay tuned.”

Ratliff: Ratliff said that the city needs to open up all of Bogalusa for business.

“Right now there are several businesses that have had the desire to move to our city,” she said. “But they wanted to move to areas other than District D and District E, and have been unable to.”

Ratliff also said that the city needs a variety of new business, rather than more “flea markets” and “Dollar General stores.”

“Bogalusa is better than a Family Dollar or a Dollar General,” she said. “We need strip malls that have Hobby Lobby … Dillard’s … that have the stores that we like to shop at. So that our people can, instead of going to Covington to get a decent pair of shoes, will be able to get a decent pair of shoes here in our city.”

Ratliff noted that the city needs to also look at its payroll expenses, and she would cut the mayor’s salary if elected.

McGehee: McGehee noted that Bogalusa is one of four cities in the state that pays a tax that goes into an industrial park fund, which can only be used on the industrial park. He said that his administration built two new spec buildings in the park in 2007, and two companies are now housed in those buildings.

“It’s hard to bring industry to Bogalusa when you don’t have the proper infrastructure to get people in and out of it,” said McGehee, noting that the city still needs the four-lane highway that was promised 30 years ago.

“There was 13 projects state-wide, and everybody was paying that tax forward,” he said. “Well 12 of them’s been built. That’s the only one left.

“Is that the total answer for Bogalusa? No. Will it help? Absolutely.”


Question 3 — What are your views on transparency in reference to fiscal budgets, contracts and working bids? Are you committed to monthly town hall meetings and monthly budget releases?

McCree: McCree said that the budget and city finances should be regularly discussed during council meetings, and also additional forums could be held.

“My whole thing is honesty,” he said. “You have to be honest. You have to have the people to trust you.”

McCree praised the administration of past mayor Toye Taylor, saying that “Taylor was the best mayor in my time, that the city ever had.”

“He didn’t kick the can down the road,” he said. “He faced our problems head on. And that’s the kind of mayor I would like to be — I would follow in his footsteps. He was open, he was honest, and we wasn’t in the situation that we’re in right now.”

Perrette: Perrette noted that she and other city officials have always had an “open door policy,” and continue to do so.

“We have a law that you can request any public document through our Director of Administration at 985-732-6213,” she said. “And it is open. We have an open door policy. I currently have a open door policy where you can show up at my office, and in between meetings I’ll meet with you as well.”

She also said that water bills would soon feature a newsletter on the back, to keep citizens aware of city business and other information.

Ratliff: Ratliff said that “transparency is a given” for government officials, and said that the city does not really have any problems with transparency.

“I’ve never had an occasion where I’ve gone to the mayor’s office and not been given an audience,” she said.

Ratliff said that she would also have an open-door policy, if she is elected.

McGehee: McGehee said that his administration would utilize social media even more than the city is using it now, in order to distribute information more quickly and efficiently to citizens.

“I won’t ever withhold a public record from anybody,” he said.

Ritchie: “I’ve had nothing to hide my whole life,” he said. “I’m me. If you like me, you like me, if you don’t you don’t. I’m not going to change.”

Ritchie said that “everything that we do in government, every individual has a right to know.” He also noted that citizens should not only look at the budget summary sheets, but also the details in the back of the documents, such as the audits.

“You have to look at the whole picture,” he said. “You just can’t take bits and pieces and make a decision.

“If you’re going to trust me to run your city, I can promise you and I can promise my council, you will suffer from information overload before you’ll suffer from information shortage.”

Candidates also answered two additional questions. They were:

  • What do you feel makes you qualified to run Bogalusa efficiently and economically? What is your campaign platform and what are the top three priorities you intend to pursue?
  • How will you address the deficit in the city budget, including the city’s retirement fund?

A summary of answers to the final two questions, as well as the candidates’ opening and closing statements, will be published in the Wednesday, Sept. 12, edition of The Daily News.