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Election 2019: District 4 candidates discuss economic growth

LAPLACE — Economic development, recreational opportunities and accessibility to residents were among the topics District 4 Parish Council candidates prioritize in their visions for St. John the Baptist Parish.

Frank Alexis, Tyra Duhe-Griffin and Penny Hall will appear on ballots during the Oct. 12 election, competing to fill the empty seat left by Councilman Marvin Perrilloux, who is running for Councilman At-Large Division B.

The candidate with the most votes will represent residents in LaPlace Park, Sugar Ridge, Foxwood, the Grove and other areas of LaPlace.

With decades of experience in accounting, Frank Alexis believes he has the skills essential for a Parish Council representative tasked with managing a $100 million budget. His professional background allows him to ask informed and intelligent questions while leading St. John the Baptist Parish forward with a clear vision.

He believes government is a business and should be run as such to ensure wise spending of public dollars and quality services.

It’s the residents who invest hard-earned tax dollars into the Parish, and Alexis said they are entitled to relief from flooding and drainage problems, hurricane protection, quality of life events and functioning infrastructure in return.

“Some of those are fundamental issues that have been longstanding,” Alexis said. “If you go back four years, candidates were running on campaigns of flooding, drainage and infrastructure. We still have the same problems, and I have a problem with that.”

Beyond the fundamental water issues, Alexis said it is necessary to look at the overall economic development of St. John Parish. Residents yearn for larger restaurant and shopping options, but when a new business comes to town, it is more often than not a Dollar General or another value store. Alexis previously worked in market research, and he understands the process behind bringing new businesses into the parish.

“It’s a targeted group,” Alexis said. “What they are saying about St. John Parish is that we are a parish that can only afford Dollar General and the likes.”

Alexis proposes putting together a committee of industry representatives, real estate professionals and members of the business community to conduct market research on which businesses the community can sustain. The next step would involve soliciting businesses to come to St. John Parish and hire local, allowing residents a chance to expand household income.

“Economic development not only increases the disposable income, but it affects our schools, our hospitals, and every service in the community,” Alexis said. “It takes council members who have a vision. It just doesn’t seem that we’ve had a vision here.”

Part of the vision includes establishing continuous lines of communication.

“I expect to be available all of the time for my entire district,” Alexis said. “I expect to have liaisons in each of my communities.”

If elected to office, Alexis also hopes to improve the St. John Parish Disaster Recovery plan. He wants to collaborate with the St. John Sheriff’s Office to combat crime rates by enforcing juvenile curfews. In the same vein, he hopes to incorporate more recreational facilities in LaPlace for the children he often sees playing basketball in the streets.

Appointed by the governor of Louisiana as an environmental justice coordinator for “Cancer Alley, Alexis has helped relocate communities impacted by emissions, and he sees the same issues facing the parish today.

Tyra Duhé-Griffin

Growing up in St. John the Baptist Parish, Tyra Duhé-Griffin was continuously inspired by her mother, a social worker, and her aunt Shirley Gauff, an educator who taught her the importance of giving back to her community.

“I’m homegrown,” Duhé-Griffin said. “I am a servant leader of St. John the Baptist Parish. I’m an educator here, and I want this to be a great place where the community can continue to raise their families. I want to continue to be part of good change.”

Duhé-Griffin works as a master teacher at LaPlace Elementary School, where she previously helped students advance to the next grade level by operating a volunteer-based summer school. She is a current member of the Louisiana Association of Educators and formerly served as a member of the St. John Recreation Advisory Board.

Just as she holds students and parents accountable, Duhé-Griffin plans to hold the Parish Council and administration accountable to the needs of the residents. As a representative of District 4, she will work to foster transparency and ensure the local government makes fiscally responsible decisions.

She would also like to create strong recreational activities for children, adults and seniors.

“As an educator in our school system, I feel like I’m positioned to identify and implement best practices for supporting partnerships between our schools and our local government,” Duhé-Griffin said.

Outside of the school realm, Duhé-Griffin plans to fortify economic development. She believes beautification efforts will assist in raising local property values when paired with the streamlining and enforcement of codes and ordinances.

Working closely with the parish president and other government agencies will allow her to cultivate additional job opportunities for residents.

Duhé-Griffin would like to keep the West Shore Levee Project on track and continuing the improvement of roads and infrastructure within the parish. She believes public safety should be a top priority, especially when it comes to monitoring chloroprene emissions in St. John Parish and reminding administration that profit cannot be prioritized over human life.

While she doesn’t want to make promises she can’t uphold, Duhé-Griffin wholeheartedly guarantees she would help residents’ voices be heard.

“I think what makes me the most qualified person for this position is I’m not a politician,” Duhé-Griffin said. “I am a public servant. I’m here to serve my community, and I can guarantee I’m going to work my hardest for my community. I’m going to put my best foot forward. I can guarantee I will listen, I will respond, and I will be transparent. I’m not looking for a career, but I’m looking to work with the people of St. John the Baptist Parish.”

Penny Hall

Penny Hall believes teamwork makes the dream work when it comes to working together as a whole. Her slogan is, “Together we are achieving.”

“We as the council are supposed to be the voice for the people. I’m that voice,” Hall said. “I am going to be the one to get things done. I will have to have the help of other constituents on the board with me. Being in office, I want to work closely with the other council members and administration.”

Hall said a good leader must have the know-how to analyze problems and find solutions. She has grown into a leader in her 16 years at Ochsner and two years at Healing Hands Behavioral Health. A native of New Orleans and St. John Parish resident of 23 years, Hall previously volunteered for the New Orleans Recreation Department, where she helped write policies and procedures, assisted in various youth athletic programs and filled the role as a tutor and a mentor to children.

She’s passionate about the children of St. John the Baptist Parish and hopes to establish expanded recreational opportunities. According to Hall, it would benefit children to have another gym and swimming pool comparable to Regala for LaPlace. She would love to see the addition of a learning center where children of all ages could receive academic support or fill out job applications.

“If there was more for the kids to do, you wouldn’t have the crime that we’re having,” Hall said. “If kids don’t have anything to do, they’re going to find other things to get into.”

According to Hall, the greatest challenges St. John faces involve water. With the water supply almost at full capacity, Hall sees a need for another well to service LaPlace residents. She would like to see a drainage department to clean ditches and keep culverts clean, as well as a dedicated team to manage the upkeep of the new digital water meters to ensure the infrastructure lasts longer than 10 years.

Hall said greater economic development is needed to improve quality of life for residents and draw in tourism. She is an advocate for investing in hotels, dining and entertainment for children and adults.

Hall described herself as open-minded, trustworthy, respectful and compassionate, especially when it comes to working with children and senior citizen. She holds herself to a high standard of integrity.

“As a leader for the community and parish, I feel that my wisdom and knowledge will help me to determine the needs of the parish,” Hall said. “My integrity will not let me veer away from doing what’s right for the parish as a leader. I’m not a politician; I’m a community activist for the people. Volunteering with different candidates and politicians has given me insight into how politics work.”