Public servants display rare form of bravery

Published 11:45 pm Friday, December 12, 2014

When you cover a government entity on a weekly basis, it’s easy to look past the people and see only a government machine and all the wondrous red tape and inefficiency that sometimes entails.

But it only takes a meeting like the one convened Tuesday by the St. James Parish School Board to forever extinguish that glaringly insufficient stereotype.

Superintendent Dr. Lonnie Luce brought the meeting, which still included its normal budget and personnel talk, to a different tone when he discussed public service.

The meeting was more than an hour old by that point, but he wasn’t looking for brevity when it came time to thanking Board members Charles Nailor Sr., Carol Lambert, Patricia Schexnayder and Richard Reulet Jr.

Each was serving their last meeting following voter and qualifying decisions that cost them seats on the Board.

Collectively, the foursome is taking more than 60 years of service with them, and it was easy to see there were heavy hearts and raw emotion in the Lutcher meeting as the proceedings came to a close.

Luce told those in attendance he had served as superintendent for eight years and had known only one Board. He explained the Board’s pay didn’t match the hours served and shared that serving on a School Board opens a person to a possible public onslaught rife with false accusations.

It’s with that understanding he presented Nailor, Lambert, Schexnayder and Reulet gift bags as a sign of gratitude.

The meeting’s most poignant moment came when Michelle Nailor-Octave addressed the Board. The St. James Parish government chief administrative officer, standing in for an ailing parish president, thanked Board members for their service, then specifically thanked Charles Nailor Sr., the School Board’s sitting president and her brother.

In expressing her respect and admiration, especially through the family’s loss of its patriarch, the emotion was palpable.

Sensing this, Nailor got up from his seat, approached his sister and hugged her tightly, moving on to embrace other family members who were in attendance.

At that point, it was obvious the close of Tuesday’s meeting had nothing to do with election results, residency challenges or budget work. It was about regular men and women who stop short of bellyaching about the pace and effectiveness of local government to instead summon the courage to run for office themselves, risk failure and offer their input on our most precious commodity, the education of our youth.

Nailor summed up Tuesday’s meeting when addressing the incoming School Board members.

“It’s your responsibility to develop student achievement and do what is best for our students as we move forward,” he said. “We’re not only competing here in the parish, but we’re competing statewide. We’re competing with other countries.

“I look at what we have in place, and we’re No. 1 in the state as far as technology. We’re always in the top 5 (of teacher’s pay,) and we have been there for quite some time. We’re one of the only school systems that gave our employees a raise.

“We’re doing things that other Boards aren’t doing and don’t have the funds to do, and financially we’re doing good.

“At the same time, we have to manage our funds and continue operating as we’re doing now. We have to continue reaching for excellence.”

His tone was resolute, cracking only once at the end with emotion.

It’s time for a new School Board to lead St. James (much like other government settings across the River Parishes).

The new elected officials are worthy of our respect, for they are brave enough to volunteer for a job that is judged by all.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or