Mayor hopefuls speak at Monday forum (UPDATE: includes all 6 questions)

Published 12:14 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

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The three candidates for Bogalusa mayor spoke to about 100 citizens who attended a forum at Bogalusa High School on Monday night, as the candidates attempted to prove they were best for the job, one day before the beginning of early voting.

The forum was sponsored by AARP Bogalusa, with support from The Daily News and Bogalusa native and attorney, Charles “Chuck” Hughes. Hughes served as the moderator for Monday night’s event.

Each of the three candidates, incumbent mayor Wendy Perrette and challengers Tyrin Truong and Teddy Drummond, were asked six questions and given the opportunity to make an opening statement and closing statement. The event lasted about an hour and a half.

In order to make the proceedings fair, the candidates drew straws to determine which of the three podiums they would stand at on the stage. In addition, each candidate had the opportunity to answer two of the questions first, two of the questions second and two of the questions third. No candidate had prior knowledge of the questions.

Other supporters of the forum included the Dr. A.Z. Young Foundation, the historic Bogalusa Voters League and the Washington Parish NAACP.

Early voting opened Tuesday, Oct. 25, and will continue through Tuesday, Nov. 1, except for Sunday, Oct. 30, from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day. The early voting locations in the parish are Northshore Technical Community College in Bogalusa and the parish courthouse in Franklinton.

Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Opening statement

  • Truong — Truong noted that, despite his age of 23, he has already been involved at all levels of government in his young career. He pointed out that he served in student government associations at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and has also met with government representatives in Washington, D.C., and Baton Rouge on repeated occasions.
  • Drummond — Drummond noted that he recently retired from his job at International Paper, and has been able to watch Bogalusa shift from its heyday to its decline. He noted that his four biggest issues are crime, blight, recreation and the economy, and that the three latter issues all relate back to the first issue of crime in many ways.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that she is proud of the progress that the city has made in her previous eight years in office. She noted that her administration is still trying to clean up some of the messes left behind by previous administrations, who either made mistakes or “kicked the can down the road” rather than trying to solve immediate problems.

Question 1. What are your thoughts on the recent Bogalusa audit findings, and would you ever support asking the citizens to vote on new taxes to fund your projects or priorities?

  • Truong — Truong said there are no excuses about audit findings by previous administrations, and as mayor he would take any future findings seriously. He said that it would be difficult to ask for more tax revenue, and it would be better to simply use current revenues more responsibly.
  • Drummond — Drummond said that it was a good move for the city to get out of its partial ownership of the landfill along with the parish. Even though the city now pays a tipping fee to the parish, Drummond said it is a better deal. He also believes the city should “get out of the retirement (pension) business.” Drummond said he would possibly consider asking the public to support a public safety tax that would be earmarked toward helping the police and fire departments.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that the city had 18 findings on its audit the first year she took office in 2014, and that there were only four findings the most recent year. She said the city is addressing those findings aggressively. Perrette also noted that a recent tax referendum failed, so it seems the citizens are not in the mood to pay any higher taxes right now. “We have learned to live within our means,” she said.

Question 2. How would you address the increase in crime in Bogalusa?

  • Drummond — Drummond said that the city should bring in a consultant to look at data and create algorithms that will help continue the best pattern of patrol and policing. He noted that some cities require their officers with the fewest overtime hours to work extra foot patrols, and he suggested he might implement a similar system.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that there are new capabilities that the city has to fight crime. She noted that citizens can use a new app to give tips anonymously, and the city recently purchased radios that scramble communications so that criminals can not listen on scanners. She said that it is important for the general public to communicate with the police.
  • Truong — Truong said that he believes the city should be more transparent about communicating crime-related information to the public, so that the rumor mill does not start. He noted that under his administration’s police chief, officers would be required to spend a certain portion of each day working on the streets rather than behind an office desk. He also would like for officers with downtime to spend time with the young people, such as by joining their basketball games. He said he wanted his administration’s police department to respond “whether people are shooting a gun or shooting hoops.”

Question 3. How would you improve the economy, both by utilizing the industrial park, and bringing in new business of all sizes?

  • Perrette — Perrette said that the industrial park is already at 100-percent full occupancy. She said the city partners with the WEDF (Washington Economic Development Foundation) to bring in new business every day. She noted that citizens need to continue to support existing businesses (“shop local, buy local”) in order to help bring in new ones.
  • Truong — Troung said that the city just can’t expect new businesses to “fall out of the sky,” and his administration would be more proactive and aggressive. He noted that the new Louisiana Highway 3241 will be a great asset and the airport could also be used as a benefit to potential businesses. He noted that even bringing larger companies to Bogalusa would help mom-and-pop businesses rather than hurting them, because a distribution center that could pay “$16 or $17 an hour” to its employees would then give those employees more disposable income to spend in existing local businesses.
  • Drummond — Drummond noted that although the industrial park may be 100-percent full, there is still a lot of vacant land that the city owns in the area. He suggested possibly giving that land to industries at a sweetheart deal in order to entice economic development. He also said that he would like to see the Franklinton Chamber of Commerce expand to cover the entire parish, with both a western branch (Franklinton) and a new eastern branch (to cover Bogalusa, which currently has no active chamber).

Question 4. How would you cooperate with members of your city council, as well as other governmental representatives and agencies?

  • Truong — Truong said that “cooperation is key; but before you can cooperate, you must communicate.” He said that he understands council members and the mayor do not always agree, but he would urge them to compromise and work together for the betterment of the city. “When I win, they win,” he said. “When they win, I win. Because we are all one city.”
  • Drummond — Drummond agreed that “communication is key, no matter what you are doing.” He said that he would remain in contact with his city council, and not allow issues or agenda items to sneak up on them without advance knowledge.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that she regularly meets with city council members in groups of two or three. If four or more council members meet together then that is considered a quorum for a public meeting, which must be advertised as such. She said she has an open door policy with both the council and citizens in general, and urges her council members to make their own decisions. “I don’t want a city council that’s a puppet,” she said.

Question 5. How would you respond to issues of the city’s appearance, including blight, recreation and parks, and outdated infrastructure?

  • Drummond — Drummond said that he would encourage citizens to take care of their own property. He also noted that he would reach out to multiple engineering companies in different areas of expertise, to see what unique viewpoints and skills they could bring in helping Bogalusa apply for infrastructure grants. He said he would look at getting out of the CivicSource contract to find another way to handle adjudicated properties.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that she is aware that the city’s streets and infrastructure are in bad shape, but these are issues that have been building up for years. She noted that one difficulty in improving streets is the fact that they often have sewer lines right down the middle, so first those lines must be addressed. She noted that the city is aggressive in going after any grant money that will help improve its infrastructure with minimal impact to the general fund. She also added that a sensory and autistic park will soon be coming to Maggie Ard Park in Bogalusa.
  • Truong — Truong said that the issue is not that the money isn’t there to fix the city, but the money hasn’t been spent efficiently and wisely. He said he believed the city could reduce the number of employees in offices by utilizing apps and other online methods, and then shift those employees to work elsewhere — such as in code enforcement. He said he would reach out to groups like the Rotary Club, Civic League and other community organizations to provide donations to fix up local parks, in return for the organization’s recognition on a sign or similar public display. He also said he would improve the appearance of cemeteries and existing basketball courts.

Question 6. How will you be a mayor for all citizens, even those who did not support you in this election?

  • Perrette — Perrette noted that she has been mayor for eight years and has served many citizens who do not support her or like her. “I’m not vindictive,” she said. “I’ll kill you with kindness.” She said that she would continue to serve as a mayor for the entire community, if re-elected.
  • Truong — Truong noted that he served in the student government association for more than 16,000 students at Washington University in St. Louis, and many of them did not like him. He said that he built his campaign team to represent all Bogalusans, regardless of race, gender, age or other factors. He said his campaign was not about division, but about change. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not running against two people,” he said. “I’m running against the status quo.”
  • Drummond — Drummond said that he would create new committees, such as a Quality of Life committee, to help gauge what the citizens want for their community. “City Hall can’t do it by themselves,” he said. “It’s bigger than eight people (the mayor and the council members).”

Closing statements

  • Truong — In his closing statement, Truong again emphasized his campaign as the only one to offer real change. “With all due respect, we can’t keep electing the same people and expecting different results,” he said. He encouraged citizens to vote early, if possible, noting that “change can’t wait until Nov. 8.” “Rain, snow, sleet or shine, I hope each of you will get to the polls to elect (Number) 89,” he said.
  • Drummond — Drummond said that he has a servant’s heart and would work to improve the city both financially and aesthetically. He said that he’d especially guarantee that the city’s cemeteries were kept in a far more presentable shape than they recently have been.
  • Perrette — Perrette said that her administration has had considerable challenges, but has faced them head on. She also noted that she is not shy to reach out to other city governments who are facing the same problems as Bogalusa, to learn from them about how those cities combatting the issues. She noted that in the city’s heyday, it had more than 100 employees in Public Works — now there is only a dozen. She also noted that addressing blight has been, and will continue to be, one of her priorities.