Who will be next parish president?
Published 12:00 am Monday, December 4, 2006
Lots of interesting, surprising names making 2007 race intriguing
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – The race for the new parish president in St. John Parish may be almost a year away, but the field of candidates is growing by leaps and bounds already.
And while some of the entries in the race have been expected, other possibilities are making the interest peak at a high level earlier than many might have expected.
Chief Administrative Officer Natalie Robottom, the number two staff member to current Parish President Nickie Monica, was the first person to officially announce for the race almost two months ago.
And at the time, the field against Robottom still appeared limited.
But that has changed drastically as 2006 has drawn to a close with a growing field already confirming they will enter the race, and other high profile names saying they are considering it.
Some of the earlier names going public have been former Parish President Arnold Labat and former Parish Councilman Joby Boucvalt, both confirming this week to L’Observateur that they are definitely in the race.
One of the earlier surprise names joining the race is Rev. Donald Brown, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, who has also told L’Observateur he is definitely in the running.
Two other well known local officials said they are seriously considering the race after being approached by individuals or groups, but both say they have now decided against running. Parish Councilman Sean Roussel and St. John School Superintendent Michael Coburn confirmed meetings with groups who wanted them to run, but both have now opted out of the race.
However two other well known local figures are considering entering, with perhaps the biggest surprise being local developer Joey Scontrino. Sources to L’Observateur have confirmed Scontrino is definitely looking into the possibility of running, as is St. John Chief Deputy for the St. John Sheriff’s Office Harold Klibert.
According to early polls, Robottom and Labat are the early front runners, with one report placing the two with approximately 35 percent of the vote each in a poll involving those two, Boucvalt and Coburn. However, approximately 50 percent of those polled at the time were still undecided, and names such as Scontrino, Klibert and Brown were not included.
Robottom has the earliest jump on others in working on her campaign, with a fundraising luncheon held this week at Bull’s Corner Restaurant having a full house of supporters.
“I’m excited about the response I’ve had so far to my candidacy,” she said. “It’s been very positive and I think that’s because people like the job I have done. I have the experience in the parish government already, and even with all these names I’m hearing in the field, I feel good about my chances.”
Labat, who was parish president from 1984-88, then again from 1992 to 2000 before being term limited out, told L’Observateur he is definitely in the race and believes he is the man to beat at this time.
“I’m the front runner, that’s for sure,” he said this week. “I have been involved in serving this community all my life and even though I’m 76 years old, I still think I can help us grow here.”
Labat worked for 31 years with Shell Oil before retiring and entering politics, and has never lost a political race.
“I just think I know the parish intimately and there has been so much money wasted in the last eight years, and so little which has been done,” he said. “I’m concerned about the financial future of the parish. When I left office, we had enough money in reserve to survive for four years, but now there is nothing and we’re bonded to our limit.”
Boucvalt, 54, was a parish councilman for four years and ran for parish president against Monica, losing in a runoff. He has worked for Marathon for 29 years in his private life.
“I don’t see much change in the way things have gone around here and we need better vision to handle what should be real growth for St. John,” Boucvalt said. “Our infrastructure and traffic are real problems that haven’t been addressed, and that’s because there hasn’t been real vision from the administration.”
Brown has been the St. John Community Housing Authority director for seven years and believes that experience would make him an ideal parish president.
“I have a lot of love for this parish, and I think we have lacked a spirit of unity here,” he said.
Brown was a parish bus driver for seven years, and has pastored his church for the past 14 years.
“With the growth coming here, we need more cohesiveness in St. John and I don’t see that now,” he added.
Scontrino is certainly the most surprising and interesting name to have emerged as a possible candidate.
The owner of Landcraft Homes in St. John, he has built his reputation here as one of the most successful businessmen in the parish. Sources to L’Observateur have confirmed he is currently looking into running, but has not made a decision and did not want to comment at this time.
“I really don’t have a comment about that,” he said when asked if he was running for parish president.
Klibert, a 38 year law enforcement veteran with 27 years in administration, is also waiting until the first of the year to make a decision about running. But he confirmed he is seriously considering it, since he sees too many problems here not being resolved.
“I’m still talking to my family and the sheriff about whether I will run,” he said. “But I’m considering it since I see too many problems in the parish related to bickering between administration, staff and the council. Without cooperation, we can’t get anything done to move St. John forward, and I think I have excellent interpersonal skills that can help us get past that.”
Roussel, one of the emerging leaders on the Parish Council although still in his first term, said he was approached by “several business individuals and many residents” about running. But after holding meetings recently about it, has decided not to run at this time.
“I’m not saying never, but I’ve decided not to run now since I just don’t think enough people in this parish are ready to put their comfort level at risk. I have no doubt I could do the job, but too many people are happy with how things are and don’t really want change,” Roussel stated. “The word change has been used a lot the last 12 years, but you sure haven’t seen much of it happen.”
Coburn also said he met with a group who approached him about running, but decided to stay put as the parish school superintendent.
“I’ve got a contract until 2008 and I’m happy where I am,” he responded. “I’m not interested at this time, although I’m not saying I never would consider it. Right now I want to work with whoever the new parish president is to make St. John as good as it can be.”
The primary for the parish president’s race is Oct. 20, 2007.