Shelter vote still on hold

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 21, 2006

Rainey charges racism in move for expansion



LAPLACE – St. John Parish Councilman Lester Rainey Jr. is clearly outnumbered in fighting to put the parish animal shelter in a new location. But it’s obvious the District 1 representative is not going down without a fight.

Even as virtually the entire council once again appears poised to vote at its next meeting to expand the shelter at its current site on River Road, Rainey is standing firm in trying to oppose that decision.

Rainey’s efforts at this past Tuesday’s council meeting bought him another two weeks in keeping the fight alive, as he passed out a controversial letter to the council just 15 minutes before the meeting was going to start.

In it, Rainey reiterated his points about why the shelter should not be expanded at its current site. But in point eight of his letter, Rainey stirred up a new firestorm as he said &#8220the proposal to expand the shelter at the current site almost borders on racism in its purest form.”

The letter that all council members got that night led Councilman Sean Roussel to begrudgingly table the motion to vote for the expansion for two more weeks.

But Roussel vows to put forth a motion for a vote at the next meeting on August 29, since he thought it was only fair to allow everyone a chance to consider Rainey’s last stand against the expansion.

&#8220Councilman Rainey got me this time, but believe me, it won’t happen again,” Roussel said of the delay. &#8220I just don’t see why he waited until 15 minutes before the meeting to hand out the letter. But I promise we will vote on it at the next meeting.”

Rainey did not bring up any new issues in his letter of objection, noting again the fact that the expansion is not progressive for the growth of St. John, that the parish has other properties it could use, the shelter should be moved out of the residential area, and the parish should be obligated to use the land donated by former Parish President Arnold Labat on Airport Road.

&#8220Even if we don’t use the property from Mr. Labat, then I think we should use the land at the corner of Airline and Airport Road,” he contended. &#8220This constant talk about the land being too valuable is ridiculous. We should use our land for whatever we need to help St. John be more progressive in putting its own facilities in the best spots we can put them.”

However, the allegation of racism by Rainey brought a strong reaction from Councilman Ronnie Smith, who like Rainey, is black.

&#8220I don’t appreciate the comment about racism and the fact that we are prejudiced,” Smith said. &#8220The last time I looked in the mirror, I was the same color as he is.”

Smith, who was one of the former undecided council members on the matter, since he was trying to give Rainey every last opportunity to find another option, has now made it clear he is ready to vote for the expansion.

&#8220I have waited to see anything from Mr. Rainey that would be a better option, but we have addressed every other reasonable solution,” he said. &#8220At this point, we need to make a decision. We will never make 100 percent of the people in the parish happy with any decision we make, but we have to do what’s best for the majority of the parish residents and the expansion at the present site is the right decision.”

Rainey acknowledged he was fighting an uphill battle, but said he wasn’t going to back down from his position.

&#8220It’s amazing how for some people, the council will move heaven and earth. Look how quickly they helped find other land for the garbage company when people there didn’t like the business in their area,” he said. &#8220But for the people in my district, it’s not so important.”

Rainey pointed out the percentage of poor families in his district, but noted many people in that area of St. John are working to improve the neighborhood.

&#8220We have had a lot of nice, new homes built there, and a lot of people are trying to improve things. Expanding the shelter there is not a progressive move to help my district improve,” he said. &#8220The bottom line is the shelter shouldn’t be there.”