Candidates for city council, school board spoke at BHS

Published 4:45 am Saturday, September 22, 2018

Editor’s Note: The candidates’ responses to their first question are published today. Answers for Questions 2-3 will be published in the Wednesday, Sept. 26, edition of The Daily News.

There were enough candidates to fill the stage, in a debate held Thursday evening at the Bogalusa High School auditorium.

The debate was sponsored by the Citizens for Education and Community Improvement (CECI). Bill Arata served as the moderator and Tiye Yayu kept time, which was particularly important with 25 different candidates participating. Thursday’s debate was for those candidates running for Bogalusa City Council or Bogalusa School Board.

The city council candidates who participated Thursday were Gloria Kates (District A, incumbent), Virginia Dunn (District A), Tamira Smith (District B, incumbent), Danielle Magee-Keys (District B), Shelby Temples (District C), Keosha Rawls (District C), Oneita Graham (District C), Paul Barber (District D), Kenny Kellis (District D), Foots Quinn (District D), John McNabb (District E), Mark Irvine (District E), Robin Day (at-large), Teddy Drummond (at-large, at-large incumbent) and Scott Ard (at-large, District D incumbent, but is not running for re-election to that district seat).

The school board candidates who participated were Willie “Toni” Breaux (District 3), Justin Arnold (District 3), Adam Kemp (District 4, incumbent), Travis Houston (District 4), Kay Kay Varnado (District 5), Curtis Creel (District 5, incumbent), Susan Penton (District 6), Ricky Killingsworth (District 6), Dustin Mitchell (District 7), and Brad Williams (District 7, incumbent).

Candidates who did not participate Thursday were Malcom Moses (Council, District C), Penny Douglas (Council, at-large), Paul Kates (School board, District 1, un-opposed incumbent) and Eleanor Duke (School board, District 2, un-opposed incumbent).

Three questions were asked to each candidate — the city council candidates had different questions from the school board candidates. Each candidate had 30 seconds to answer his or her question, and then passed the microphone down the table to the next candidate in order. Candidates also had the opportunity for a 30-second introductory statement, and a minute-long closing statement.

The debate took a little more than an hour and a half. Approximately 50 citizens watched from the audience seats.

The first question asked to each candidate was as follows:

City Council Question 1 — What community initiatives do you plan on implementing, if any, to improve Bogalusa’s overall aesthetic?

Kates said that she has always been a “self initiator,” and pointed to achievements she has helped bring to the city, including the Blighted Property Program. She also noted that she has held cleanup days in District A, and helped to organize a Cemetery Commission to ensure that the city’s cemeteries will stay clean and attractive.

Dunn said that we have to address the current blight, and the re-development of current buildings.

“We need to engage young professionals to move here,” she said. “Create a tax base and fix the houses that we have.”

She also said citizens need to consider adopting a lot, and the city needs to better enforce its existing codes.

Smith said she would continue to work with initiatives of the District B cleanup day, as well as cleaning up the cemeteries. She also noted that she has started a “Christmas giveaway for the kids” and also hosts a city-wide Easter egg hunt.

Magee-Keys said she would work with the mayor and council to implement a “neighborhood enhancement initiative” that would review and strengthening ordinances related to city appearances.

She also said she would engage churches and other organizations to start cleanup days and develop green spaces.

Temples said that improving the city’s aesthetics “starts at home.”

“We need to have pride in ourselves, our home and our communities,” she said. “I would love to see churches and civic groups adopt sites.”

She also said government officials need to collaborate with citizen groups and churches to return adjudicated properties to the tax rolls.

Rawls said “I am for the kids in the community and also the elderly.”

She said that citizens should volunteer to help mow yards and clean up for older citizens who don’t have family members who can help them with those tasks.

“I will continue to help, whether I’m voted in or not,” she said.

Graham said that she would continue the city’s cleanup efforts, including the recently restarted blight cleanup program. She also said she would make sure the city’s codes are enforced, and would work with the schools to teach kids about keeping their communities clean.

Barber said that blight is one of the toughest problems the city faces.

“The city blight needs to be cleaned up so our city can shine and be attractive to different people who pass through our city,” he said.

He said he would like to see the city improve and win additional “Cleanest City” awards in the future.

Kellis said that it is important for all citizens to work together to keep the community clean.

“Neighbor helping neighbor,” he said. “This city as a whole needs a good cleaning. To accomplish this, we need to put a little bit more pride. All of the citizens together, clean this town up, not just depend on the city to put out the money.”

Quinn said he does not feel Bogalusa needs additional population, but it needs “a better quality of life for the ones that are here.”

“We need to fight the drug problem,” he said. “Clean all of the blight — not just on the main roads.”

McNabb said he would research and apply for grant funding to improve failing infrastructure.

He also said he would work with victims of arson or vandalism to help get their properties back up to code, “even if it means helping them move the debris myself.”

Irvine said his plan would be to organize a District D cleanup day, and make sure that the city is more proactive in getting adjudicated properties moved back to the tax rolls.

Day said she believes that instilling pride and ownership is the first step.

“We must empower and teach our citizens to want to do better,” she said. “We must be transparent, direct and open. Make it clear to the public what a municipality can and cannot do. Encourage business owners and everyday citizens to just do their part, for a solution.”

Drummond said that he would like to start a “Responsible Landlord Commission” that would make sure local landlords keep up their properties, whether there is a tenant living there or not.

Ard agreed with other candidates, and said the responsibility starts with individual citizens.

“You have to hold people accountable,” he said.

Ard also said that existing codes need to be enforced better.

School Board Question 1 — For current board members, what have you done to help improve the image of Bogalusa City Schools? For the candidates, what plans do you have to help improve the image of Bogalusa City Schools?

Breaux said school board members are policy makers, and noted that she has been in education for years but has never been a school board member. She is looking forward to possibly serving in that role to implement policies that meet the needs of stakeholders, staff members and children.

Arnold said he would work with fellow school board members to be sure the system is working in the right direction.

“Our children are our future and we must do the right thing,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ve failed at what we’re doing.”

Kemp said, as a board member, he tries to present the positive attributes of BCS to neighboring parishes as well as college graduates looking for jobs.

“Let them know that all the negative things they’re hearing isn’t always true,” he said.

Houston said that everything “rises and falls on leadership,” and it is important to have good leaders in order to trickle positive actions down to other levels.

“It’s our job as a school member to make sure the head — the superintendent’s vision — is carried out,” he said. “And if that vision does get askew, it’s the job of the board to make sure that track is put back in the right direction.”

Varnado said that a mentor taught her that “negativity is contagious.” She said she would spread the positive news and image of Bogalusa schools.

“We need to change the image of Bogalusa’s school system by engaging it positively — spread positive rumors,” she said.

Creel said, as a board member, he has had a part in hiring the new superintendent, Lisa Tanner. He said she “has worked tirelessly, since day one, to get our system back on track.”

Penton said that she would put a focus on the appearance of Bogalusa’s campuses, even when school is not in session.

“First impressions last a long time,” she said.

Killingsworth said all facilities will be cleaned and maintained, even ones that are not being used.

“We will demand accountability at every level — top-down,” he said.

Mitchell said that he would invite more citizens to attend open houses and other events, to allow them to see the good things going on at Bogalusa’s schools.

“We have to make our schools more accessible,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here that’s good, so we just have to make sure that everybody comes in and sees it.”

Williams said that the best way to improve the image of the school system is to improve its school performance scores. He said that the system has taken a good first step by adding additional counselors and staff to help all students succeed.

He also said that it is important for older students to know “there will be law and order in the classrooms.”