Four candidates face off in faith-related debate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 13, 2010



LAPLACE –Four of the five candidates vying for St. John the Baptist Parish’s top leadership job spent the better part of Thursday evening promoting a parish government that puts the people first.

In a two-hour long civic forum sponsored by New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace, St. John acting Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe, School Board President Gerald Keller, former parish CAO Natalie Robottom and Division A Councilman Dale Wolfe responded to a series of questions from the church community that often blended faith and politics. The fifth candidate in the race, Edgard businessman Perry Bailey, did not attend the forum.

The candidates kept it civil through early questions that focused on spirituality, faith-based leadership and ethics. Each discussed an open parish government that would focus on working with and helping the residents.

“We have been given a second chance, and it is time to make things right in St. John Parish,” Robottom said. “We need a president with a sincere desire to serve the people.”

Boe referenced government activity during times of crisis, when all people come together for the greater good.

“Those everyday separations get wiped away in an emergency,” Boe said. “We all work together to get through troubling times, and that is how parish government should always work.”

Wolfe said he would be committed to finding and hiring department heads and administrators with a clean background and nothing to hide.

“The days of closed door deals and contracts with friends are over,” said Wolfe. “Everything will be out in the open for all to see.”

Keller talked of creating a fraud hotline within the parish for whistleblowers to submit tips of possible ethics violations.

“The trust of the people is the most important aspect of good government,” said Keller. “We need to get our residents to want to speak up when something is amiss.”

The debate turned a bit feisty when the topic turned to financial responsibility in parish government.

Boe spoke of financial missteps by previous administrations that unnecessarily cost the parish millions of dollars.

“In 2006 the parish wrote off more than $1 million in unpaid water bills,” Boe said. “In 2007, parish overtime numbers were the highest they had ever been. In 2008, the parish had to completely rewrite policies on paid leave because employees and administrators were using it to their advantage.”

Keller talked of the impending disappearance of tax revenue as the expansion project at Marathon Oil comes to a close.

“Marathon helped us out immensely,” Keller said. “But ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has now gone away. It’s gone, and we need to be much more wise with our spending.”

The final questions touched on economic development and the need for a well-educated workforce.

“The parish president should go to industry in the parish to ensure that our people are getting looked at,” Wolfe said. “We need to find out where we are lacking and take the right steps to rectify our shortcomings.”