St. John Council split on effort to pull out of River Parish Tourist Commission

Published 12:15 am Saturday, January 13, 2018

EDGARD — Citing allegations of unethical practices and potential violations, at least two St. John the Baptist Parish Council members are endorsing the idea of pulling out of the River Parish Tourist Commission.

Councilman Larry Sorapuru said he spoke with “three people from here (on the commission) who don’t think we are getting the best bang for our buck.”

Larry Sorapuru Jr.

He went on to say those members expressed concern to him about potential ethical violations.

“Why not separate ourselves and promote tourism in St. John Parish?” he said.

Council member Jaclyn Hotard, a longtime proponent of the commission, which jointly markets St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes, retorted to Sorapuru, “you haven’t spoken to all three board members.”

Jaclyn Hotard

She said she had spoken to one of the St. John representatives who admitted to having no contact with Sorapuru.

Hotard also admonished Sorapuru, calling his statements “unfair representation,” adding it was “unethical for you (Sorapuru) to say that.” And she added that Sorapuru needed to “read the bylaws” of the commission.

“We need to work together as a group,” Hotard said. “We do not need to operate separately. We are competing globally and do better as a group.”

The River Parish Tourist Commission consists of three representatives of each of the three parishes. Its mandate is to promote the three parishes on a national, as well as international level. The commission is funded through a motel/hotel sales tax collected in each of the parishes, and no money is being funneled through the St. John general fund.

Although Sorapuru said St. John Parish is the largest contributor to the commission, he was told that can change on an annual basis, depending on the economic success of a parish in a particular year.

Councilman Larry Snyder sided with Sorapuru, saying the parish should get a better bang for its buck although he did not offer any explanation of what he meant. However, he did say he is  open to “looking at options.”

“They don’t care about us,” he said. “They just want our money.”

“What’s to keep us from doing it ourselves?” Snyder added. “We got a lot of historic sites.”

Larry Snyder

Councilman Thomas Malik said he has spoken to several hotel operations, who expressed confidence in the commission. He also acknowledged the benefits of working together rather than being separated, although he did question the commission’s recent decision to advertise with a Christian radio station in New Orleans.

Thomas Malik

“That should not be our target,” Malik said. “Nobody is going to come to St. John Parish if they live in New Orleans.”

The commission is housed in the St. John Parish Civic Center at no charge, which also drew questions from Council members. Snyder said the commission should be charged $800 a  month, a figure Councilman Lennix Madere found agreeable.

Commission executive director Buddy Boe, who lives in St. John Parish and admitted Tuesday was only in his fifth day on the job, acknowledged the past year presented some difficulties that “we must settle down.”

Buddy Boe

He concurred with Hotard and Malik, saying the region is stronger together and “tourists do not know parish boundaries.”

Boe said people flock to the River Region because of its culture, cuisine and history, and promoting the region as one entity is the most effective way of attracting tourism dollars.

He added that his staff members are all St. John Parish residents and pointed out that the civic center is a welcome center. He told council members that his staff also markets and shows the civic center to people who might be renting it for private events.

“We do this in lieu of rent,” he said.

Boe said the region should soon see a significant amount of activity as the area prepares for the building of new chemical plants.

Snyder instructed the District Attorney’s office to explore the legalities of pulling out of the commission and the Parish going on its own.

In other news, council members elected Madere as council chairman and Snyder as vice chairman.

Councilman Michael Wright, who was not in attendance, was also nominated for chairman, a motion that did not proceed because Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard told fellow Council members that Wright expressed to her and others he was not interested in the position. In discussion with L’OBSERVATEUR, Wright also stressed he was not interested in serving as Parish Council chair.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Snyder said Madere has not had a “chance to do this. Michael Wright had his chance.”

— By Richard Meek

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated since first publishing to include additional information on the Council chair selection.)