Hemelt: Thank you to those leaders who comment

Published 12:03 am Saturday, August 1, 2015

A month ago, L’OBSERVATEUR’s reporting staff published an editorial — ‘No comment’ not good enough for St. John — that, naturally, ruffled a few feathers, specifically of some elected officials.

In separate examples, The St. John the Baptist Parish Council, Parish President, District Attorney and Sheriff were cited for choosing the “no comment” or unreturned phone call approach in dealing with a matter of public concern. Instead of speaking on an uncomfortable subject and providing context for parish residents, the silent road was chosen to the detriment of everyone.

Well, we need to give credit when and where it is due.

I’m not sure anyone in St. John the Baptist Parish avoided the story that brewed Monday night and boiled over later in the week when police reported three juveniles went on a spray painting spree, reportedly targeting more than 30 vehicles for untold damage.

Social media and the well-deserved frustration of those impacted escalated the situation when it was revealed the juvenile arrestees were released within hours of their apprehensions.

Some of the aggravation was directed at Judge J. Sterling Snowdy’s office and Juvenile Probation Officer Samantha Wilson, who is reportedly running for sheriff.

When I called Snowdy’s office, a message left for Wilson was not returned, but Snowdy did take my call despite what was surely a busy day.

My many thanks go to him for the patience he showed, explaining how the judicial system worked concerning juvenile procedure before eventually fielding my questions.

He chose not to blow off my questions, which pushed on things that were not of public record because a juvenile was involved. He went out of his way to offer some comment about a subject that involved a member of his staff, dealt with a juvenile and included the caveat of a political election.

I have all too often received far less cooperation from elected officials walking a much wider tightrope.

I also want to recognize Sheriff Tregre for reversing his original stance with L’OBSERVATEUR when he chose not to comment when asked to discuss a lawsuit filed this summer accusing a deputy of pointing a weapon in a motorist’s face and saying “don’t play with me. I’ll shoot you. I’ll arrest you and take you in and think nothing of it.”

In the July 15 newspaper, Tregre said no pistol was ever pointed and added he was confident the deputy would be cleared of the allegations.

As stated earlier, the ratio of fanfare for a job well done for elected officials pales in comparison to the ridicule and downright scorn that comes with a perceived poor performance.

That is especially true in St. John the Baptist Parish, where the familiarity of a small community combines with the hotbox of South Louisiana politics to produce interesting political clashes of will.

It is inevitable.

It occurred again at the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board meeting last week when District 11 School Board Member Clarence Triche stood alone while voting against awarding a Certificate of Substantial Completion for the completed construction of East St. John High School.

He calmly stated his concerns about a possible fire hazard in the school’s welding area and then sat silently as others on the Board expressed frustration with his stance. Ultimately, the motion passed by a vote of 10-1.

When I contacted Triche two days after the meeting to get his take on the vote, he again stated his concerns, knowing they would produce ridicule from some in the public and on the School Board.

He didn’t “no comment” the situation away.

It’s not an easy job to serve as an elected official in South Louisiana, and I will forever have extra respect for those that tackle the challenge by clearly stating their opinions for the community to understand.

No comment is the worst story a politician can tell.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.