Mayor hopefuls debate

Published 4:20 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Editor’s Note: The candidates’ responses to the first three debate questions were published in the weekend edition of The Daily News, Sept. 8-9.

On Thursday, Sept. 6, the five candidates for Bogalusa mayor participated in a public debate at Bogalusa High School.

Each candidate was given three minutes to answer a question, and there were a total of five questions asked of all five candidates. Participants were Brian McCree, James “Mack” McGehee, current mayor Wendy Perrette, Doug Ritchie and Tina Ratliff.

The final two questions asked of each participant, as well as a summary of the responses, were as follows:

Question 4 — 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?

Perrette: Bogalusa’s current mayor pointed to some of her administration’s achievements, as well as goals she would love to achieve in the future if re-elected.

“Under my administration, the city of Bogalusa is no longer in debt in our operational budget,” she said. “(It) has paved 2.29 miles of streets, has purchased the first new fire truck in memory, has changed out the radios in the police department, and secured a commitment from General Dynamics until at least 2021…”

Perrette said that her biggest priorities would be improved infrastructure, especially streets and sewage; attracting more business and industry; and bringing a community center to the area.

Ratliff: Ratliff said that she is qualified because she has “love for the city,” and also noted that she is highly educated and experienced in business.

Ratliff said that she would try to establish a more fair tax policy, noting that recent ballot initiatives called for millages to be in force for 15 or 20 years.

“Citizens know we have to pay taxes,” she said. “If we would just implement a tax so there’s a tax on the ballot and instead of 15 mills for 20 years, put something on the ballot that’s for eight years — eight mills for 10 years, or even 10 mills.”

McGehee: McGehee, a former mayor, said that there is nothing that “makes you Mr. Special to run the city of Bogalusa.”

He noted that the city dealt with Hurricane Katrina during his administration, and the federal government still owes reimbursement payments to the city even to this day. He said that his experience during that disaster helps qualify him to serve as mayor again.

“I’m going to make some pledges to you tonight,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for myself, my family and this community. I don’t want the city’s money. I’m retired … I don’t have to do this. But I do know how to fix it, there’s no question. I know how to fix it; I know what it’s going to take to fix it.”

McGehee said that he would look at re-structuring the city “so it can meet its financial obligations.”

“It probably should have been done years ago,” he said.

Ritchie: Ritchie said his main qualification is that he has more than 40 years in business.

“I know what a balance sheet looks like,” he said. “In business if you’re not making money, and you’re behind, you’ve got to start making cuts.”

Ritchie said he would work hard on the budget to make sure it stays within budget, and he “would not go into dedicated funds to use them to balance the budget.”

“It’s against the law,” he said. “It’s against our charter, but it’s being done. … That will never happen. We will live within our means.

“We can’t ask people to step out and help us, if we can’t help ourselves first.”

Ritchie also said that everyone needs to make a commitment to “shop Bogalusa first.”

McCree: McCree said that he was unique among all the candidates, because he has worked for the city for more than a quarter of a century, as a firefighter.

“First of all, I didn’t go to Harvard,” he said. “I didn’t go to Princeton. I didn’t even go to Grambling or Southern, but what I did do was work for this city for 25 years. No one on this stage can say that they’ve been with the city of Bogalusa for 25 years.”

McCree said that the city needs to put time clocks in its buildings, and look for more accountability among employees who report their time worked and expenditures.

McCree said that his top three priorities would be to deal with the “city dump mess,” address the public works pension funding crisis, and encourage the use of Cassidy Park as an economic engine.

Question 5 — How will you address the deficit in the city budget, including the city’s retirement fund?

Ratliff: Ratliff said that one of the biggest problems of the city is that its payroll is too high — she said as high as 90 percent of the budget is made up of salaries.

“We’re trying to run our economy on 1970 money with 2018 expenses,” she said. “There is going to be some work that has to be done.”

She said re-structuring the city workforce would be beneficial.

“When it comes to helping the city, and needing real help, I would rather have more people who are fixing the people, than people that are supervising the people that are fixing the sewer,” she said.

She said that she has worked with Fortune 500 companies, and once saved one company more than $500,000 in budget cuts.

McGehee: McGehee said that he commended the current city council’s proactive response to the pension crisis, but had concerns.

“Is it the right answer? I don’t know,” he said. “Again, they’re wanting to take money from the industrial park. I told you a while ago, we still have to maintain the industrial park. If a roof blows off out there and it costs $4 million to fix it, we’ve got to fix it. So we’ve got to have money in that fund to fix it.

“And moving the sales tax out of the general fund … that could be debated. I’ll sit down and listen to anybody. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, you take money out of one place that’s needed it for years, and put it somewhere else.”

Ritchie: Ritchie said that he believes there is a lot of waste still in the city’s budget, and there are enough cuts that could be made to ensure the pension fund is made solvent.

“I feel like we have a lot of money in our industrial park fund,” he said. “Plus if the wind blows the roof off, we do have insurance. … As far as the money coming out of the general fund, that’s about $270,000 (a year). I don’t think out of a $10-12 million budget, that I’d have a problem finding $270,000 worth of waste in our city.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity of those challenges — to straighten these things out with the city. Because if we don’t, then we will probably be looking at the state taking over, and I don’t think anyone of us wants to see that happen.”

McCree: McCree said that the pension fund for public works is the “No. 1 priority.”

“We have to take care of our public works department,” he said.

McCree also questioned some recent expenditures that he felt were unnecessary.

“We can’t go out there and build a splash pad in Cassidy Park — and don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “But we can’t go out there and build a splash pad in Cassidy Park and build a walkway from Cassidy Park to Goodyear Park, when we really don’t have the money to do it.”

He also said that he would make changes to some city departments, bringing in fresh faces and fresh ideas.

Perrette: Perrette said that the city council did not take the pension funding crisis seriously until officials from the State Legislative Auditor’s Office came to speak to them directly. She suggested that the most immediate response was to pass an additional 25-percent increase in property tax millage, but that referendum was defeated in April.

“We have been working on this since Day One,” she said. “It’s not just an easy quick fix, it’s a 31-year-old problem. It’s $22 million underfunded. With that being said, you can’t even fully fund that. However, we are currently making $270,000 a year to that fund — if we could have a revenue of $762,000 added to that … for a total of also $1 million … (we could fund the pension).

“I know the city of Bogalusa’s residents are tax-leery and tax-weary. That was our only way that we could look at it, that we went for it all. We wanted to make it whole again — I think these men and women deserve it.”

Perrette also noted that the city spends $1 million each year on sewer repairs, but those are only “band aids” and more expensive refurbishments will likely be needed at some point.

“It’s a 27-year-old problem,” she said. “We just can’t keep band-aiding it.”

At the conclusion of the debate, each candidate also had the opportunity to make a three-minute closing statement. Included below are key quotes from each candidate.

McGehee: “I will work every day to go out and sell this community as the best community that it is, and it is — it’s a great community.”

Ritchie: “I’ll be at work every day and I will be honored to be there. I will be a leader and the buck will stop with me. It won’t stop with department heads.”

McCree: “I don’t have a clique. I’m not in cahoots with anybody. Only person I want to be in cahoots with is the citizens of this city. No clique — y’all are the clique.”

Perrette: “I’ve worked hard as your mayor — 12-to-15 hour days. It’s not just an 8-to-4 job. That council calls you, a citizen calls you — Mack knows! — it don’t just stop at 4 o’clock. I’m here for you, I work for you, and I’m proud to work for you.”

Ratliff: “Don’t just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. The biggest part of Bogalusa that we haven’t talked about yet are the children. If we leave out the children, we’re leaving out the most valuable part of our community. Our children are our primary concern, to me, for our city.”