St. John looking to exit River Parish Tourist Commission

Published 12:15 am Saturday, March 3, 2018

LAPLACE — Opinions as to whether St. John the Baptist Parish should withdraw its membership from the River Parish Tourist Commission appear to be split along racial lines.

The five African-American members of the Parish Council are strongly advocating withdrawing from the commission, while the four white members are equally as vehement about remaining. The commission jointly promotes tourism for the tri-parishes of St. John, St. Charles and St. James and is made up of three members from each of the parishes.

Councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. originally floated the withdrawal idea several weeks ago and once again raised the issue during the Council meeting Tuesday night. He has previously said two of the parish’s three commission representatives have expressed displeasure with the board, especially its treatment of St. John Parish, although at both meetings Sorapuru did not elaborate on those concerns.

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux also was vocal in his distrust toward the commission, saying he has “heard all kinds of comments,” adding St. John is the “majority of the funders with the least representation.” However, he also did not offer additional details.

“I don’t need St. James,” Perrilloux added. “We got a lot of tourist attractions, from minorities, plantations. If that’s the kind of representation (the parish is receiving,) we don’t need it.”

At one point there seemed to be confusion on the Council as to how the commission operates, with it being asked if St. John could just stop paying its dues. However, Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said the state collects the money through the hotel/motel tax, which is used to fund the commission.

At one point, the discussion focused on the legal process, or even the legality, of withdrawing from the commission, which is a state board. Keith Green, an assistant district attorney who serves as legal counsel for the Parish Council, repeatedly told members they should contact the commission’s attorney for guidance. Once the D.A.’s office was made aware of the process, he said only then would he be able to offer advice.

He added that although the Council can appoint, the commission itself is its own independent entity.

“I would suggest we not vote on (withdrawing),” he said, but Councilman Kurt Becnel urged “we vote on this tonight and let (the commission’s) legal counsel tell us we are wrong.”

Councilmen Tom Malik and Michael Wright said they each had spoken to several hotel owners who were in favor of the parish retaining its membership, believing “there is strength in numbers.”

Councilwoman Julia Remondet, who was one of the original developers of the commission, said the money being collected is not money the parish would receive anyway because the funds go to the state.

“I believe we are only as good as (our) representatives,” she also cautioned. “They have to have an interest in tourism, have some knowledge of it and be a viable part of that board.”

Malik agreed, saying the focus should be on who’s representing the parish and if they are acting in the parish’s best interest.

Commission opponents offered no alternative solutions to promoting tourism other than to say the parish could do it on its own. Left unclear is what form that might take or the funding source.

Councilman Larry Snyder offered a motion to have a letter crafted and presented to the commission regarding the parish’s intention to withdraw. The motion was approved 5-4, with Lennix Madere Jr., Becnel, Snyder, Perrilloux and Sorapuru approving and Wright, Hotard, Malik and Remondet in opposition.

In other Council news, Voters in District 2 will now be voting at St. Peter Catholic School, moving away from the Health Unit, which had become too cramped for space.

“We are moving District 2 voters back to District 2,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said.

• Council members also voted to award a contract for videography services to Global Media South LLC of LaPlace, although the company was not a properly registered company with the Secretary of State’s office. The disclosure prompted a lengthy discussion on the differences the bid process and request for proposal and the requirements for each.

The contract was eventually approved by a 7-0 vote with Hotard and Wright abstaining.

— By Richard Meek