St. John housing mess limps along

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 1999

L’Observateur / August 21, 1999

St. John the Baptist Parish council members might now breathe a sigh ofrelief as the Housing Authority investigation was abruptly taken out of their hands, with elections on the horizon.

The housing matter, however, is not one which will quietly go away. Thesituation remains that many residents in the parish housing developments live in conditions which might be standard only in some struggling Third World nation.

The fact remains that there exists three-quarters of a million dollars sitting in a bank account, intended for maintenance and upkeep of the housing developments. Instead, it has been accumulating interest where itmight have been better used, spent on repairs and renovations.

It is likely some of the crumbling conditions highlighted in recent events are, well, self-inflicted; still, the majority of residents live quiet lives without criminal records and surely deserve a better lifestyle.

Meanwhile, the raucous atmosphere of the parish council hearings contributed to the carnival-like manner in which the investigation appeared to be heading. Speech-making doesn’t solve problems, but hardwork, quiet attention to detail and adhering to the law will.

The hearings conducted by the parish council hunted for a scapegoat – someone to blame for all the mess. What was accomplished was the firingof three housing authority commissioners and the resignation of another.

What was also accomplished was the ill feeling generated across the board as this scandal twists in the wind.

HUD, in its report, laid the blame on the housing authority for conditions in the developments. Some on the parish council looked to blameadministrator Patrena Ester. And a new slate of commissioners is due tobe appointed by Parish President Arnold Labat, with four months left to his term in office.

What else has been accomplished so far? A black eye for the parish’s reputation. An embarrassment in trying to manage the fallout of thesituation.

This is an election year, and votes are crucial – even those in the housing developments. Some council members may find themselves in the situationof defending their actions in how the housing mess was handled. Opposingcandidates may try to make political hay from the situation. Fingers willcontinue to be pointed, and blame-laying has only begun.

The council, for the most part, appeared not to be satisfied with HUD’s findings but they are not qualified to conduct their own investigation with any legally binding results. Therefore, doubtless, talk of the housingproblem will persist throughout Election 1999 and St. John Parish willenter the 21st Century still trying to clear up 20th Century problems which grew out of racial injustices perpetrated in centuries previous.

The battle over the housing scandal may have only begun but it’s already gone on far too long and will stain the parish for years to come. This is anopportunity for true leadership to step forward and take control of the runaway situation.

When will we ever learn?


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