St. Charles Council rejects travel reform

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 19, 2005


Managing Editor

HAHNVILLE — A reform ordinance, aimed at restricting travel by St. Charles Parish officials to conventions and seminars, was rejected Monday by the Parish Council in a 6-2 vote.

The proposed ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilmen G. “Ram” Ramchandran and “Dickie” Duhe, came in response to criticism of 22 members of the parish administration, council and council staff attending the annual National Association of Counties convention, held last month in Hawaii.

The proposal, read aloud at the meeting by Duhe, would have mandated even-numbered council members attending in even-numbered years, and odd-numbered members in odd-numbered years, plus mandating the parish president or a designated administration member, to attend all. Any other employees or administrators must be able to justify their attendance.

The cost of the conference delegation’s attendance was roughly estimated by Councilman Lance Marino at $50,000. Marino added, though, that the cost-saving knowledge gained balanced the expenses incurred.

“I worked hard and so did my fellow councilmen,” Marino said, as he pointed out how restrictive the proposal was. He then asked coumcil critic Carolyn Schexnaydre, “If it engenders millions into the parish, would you say it was worth it? Don’t assume the worst.”

When Schexnaydre said some of the attendance money could have been used to correct specific drainage problems, citing one New Sarpy woman now selling her home after having flooded five times in the past 10 years, Marino said the knowledge gained is helping people parish-wide in correcting flooding problems.

Another council critic, Gwen Dufrene, suggested not only limiting the number who should attend, but also placing a cap on the travel budget.

Councilwoman April Black said she felt her attendance was part of her responsibilities and duties, representing her constituents. She pointed out several benefits of her attendance, including knowledge on eminent domain used to combat the incursion of the New Orleans airport into the parish. “It’s not all fun and games,” she said.

Councilman Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux related a round-table discussion on oil and gas excise taxes which, he said, could lead to millions of dollars for the parish, and also pointed out NACo campaigning to battle coastal erosion while seeking federal funds.

“If we adopt this ordinance, we’re hamstringing ourselves,” Marino added.

Ramchandran, who chairs a NACo committee on coastal erosion, pointed out that a recent visiting delegation who saw the effects of coastal erosion first hand came to understand the problems faced by St. Charles Parish and pledged support in Congress.

Duhe, in turn, instructed finance director Lorrie Toups to slash his own travel budget from $11,900 per year to $4,000, and move the balance to Parish President Albert Laque’s travel fund.

Nevertheless, the ordinance only gained the votes of Duhe and Ramchandran, with Brian Fabre absent.