Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2011

Economic development is key to running any successful administration. What will you do to foster economic development in the parish?

Nickie Monica: With a track record of bringing new businesses and industry to the parish (for example: Home Depot, Office Depot, the Southeast War Veterans Home, National Guard Readiness, VA Outpatient clinic and $3.8 billion Marathon expansion), I have proven I have the experience, relationships and ability to create jobs. To continue job creation in St. John, I will propose an exemption of ad valorem taxes on commercial development that will create jobs instantly and expand our tax base. I will expand the Department of Economic Development. I will have one person dedicated solely to recruiting new business and to assist in retaining the businesses that are already here. I will work closely with the state Department of Economic Development and its director, Stephen Moret, to utilize any state funds to attract business to St. John and will work closely with the River Region Chamber of Commerce, the St. John Business Association and the Port of South Louisiana. I am committed to hiring local people and working with local contractors.

Natalie Robottom: Economic development is critical to the growth and sustainability of St. John the Baptist Parish. Fostering a business-friendly climate and assuring prospective business owners that they are dealing with an honest and responsive administration is a first step. I will aggressively pursue businesses with good-paying jobs that compliment and support existing businesses. I will push to expand our Small Business and Career Solutions program to provide training, education and access to resources that facilitate growth and job creation. Both will increase our tax base. I will continue to work with the local school system and technical college to provide training programs to ensure a properly trained workforce for prospective employers. The relationship between the administration and organizations such as the Business Association, River Region Chamber and GNO Inc. must be strengthened and crafted to reduce duplication of efforts while providing needed assistance to business owners.

Ronnie Smith: Economic development is important, so important that part of my plan would be to make sure our economic development department becomes proactive instead of being reactive as it is now. I will make sure the personnel of that department are sent to school to educate them in the latest procedures of economic development. I personally feel that the west bank should be included more in our economical growth. I have some ideas that I would like to share with the residents of the west bank to get their input to help the west bank grow.

With scandals cutting short the careers of so many politicians these days, what will you do to ensure your administration is transparent and ethical?

NM: As a state representative, I voted to pass ethics reform. As a result, Louisiana is now ranked first in disclosure for elected officials. In my 16 years in public office I have operated with integrity and honesty. I will continue to use these core values in governing and making decisions for the parish as well as lead by example for employees of the parish. My administration and I will follow the Louisiana Code of Ethics, and directors will be required to sign a code of conduct. In addition, all parish employees will be required to attend annual ethics training. These measures will ensure that all levels of parish government are transparent, open to the public and without corruption. At all times, I and my administration will treat all people fairly and adhere to a zero-tolerance policy for corruption.

NR: My administration has overhauled the way government does business while operating in an honest and open manner. My administration has made every effort to keep the lines of communicate open with residents, business owners and public officials. Numerous public meetings have been held throughout the parish to gain input and respond to questions and concerns. The parish website has been redesigned to include all parish departments and their responsibilities, the annual budget, advertisements for purchases and available positions. New, transparent policies were developed that guide the way we do business with vendors. And more information about parish contracts and vendors is available on the parish website than at any time in history. Users can also view maps, fill out forms, watch council meetings and easily access numerous related links. St. John citizens can trust me to do what’s right, and they can rest assured that parish government is operating in an honest, transparent manner for the benefit of all citizens.

RS: It starts with the parish president hiring ethical persons to fill those positions. Hiring the right people is the key. There are plenty of rules and guidelines to follow that are in place for the parish president already. Please understand if the rules are followed, then we have no problems. Additional guidelines won’t change the persons in office.

In the River Parishes, uniting the east and west banks has always been problematic. What will you do to eliminate this problem?

NM: It is my strong belief that all people should be treated equally regardless of where they reside. I will ensure an accessible administration so all people have the same opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns and desires for their community and our parish. In response to a desire for access to medical services, I brought the Teche Action Clinic, a federally qualified health center, to the west bank. In response to a desire for a recreation facility, I proposed and constructed a multi-purpose complex and built a park by the bridge for use by westbank residents. My commitment is to ensure an open and accessible administration where the needs of all residents are heard and addressed.

NR: Although perceived to be problematic, I believe the people of the east and west banks share the same concerns, no matter where they live. People on both sides of the river want a parish government that is honest, effective and operates efficiently. People on both sides of the river must be able to trust their elected officials to make decisions with the best interest of all of the residents in mind. They want our parish to be an even better place to live for their children. There is a physical barrier between the east and west banks of St. John, but it doesn’t mean that people on either side don’t share the same dreams. With a bridge spanning the river very close to either end of our parish and a ferry crossing in the middle, access to the east and west banks is not as great an issue today as it was previously. Internet access and improved cable service will go a long way to provide connectivity across the parish.

RS: This question is easy — treat them both as one. If you have two kids, would you do for one and not the other? Would you love one more than the other? Probably not, so just treat the east bank and the west bank the same. Because the west bank is further behind than the east bank, implement programs to help catch them up to the east bank. Make sure all residents of the parish are treated equally on the east and west banks.