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Motions fail for boosting travel expenses, renaming street in Reserve

LAPLACE — An attempt by St. John the Baptist Parish Councilwoman Tyra Duhe-Griffin to boost local travel expenses for council members by $200 a month was voted down during a Zoom council meeting this past Tuesday night.

Initially, the way in which Duhe-Griffin presented the proposal appeared to confuse some fellow council members. She originally proposed amending Line Item 35 in the 2021 budget by $200. However, unclear was what department she was referencing since several departmental budgets have a Line Item 35 and whether the $200 was a monthly increase.

Through additional discussion and questioning, Duhe-Griffin revealed she was seeking to add $200 a month in local travel expenses for each council member, which would have cost the parish an additional $21,000 annually.

Currently, the two at-large council members and the District 1 council member receive $400 a month in local travel expenses. The remainder of the council members receive $300 a month. The at-large council members as well as the District 1 representative receive larger monthly payments to allow for the greater distances in their respective districts.

Council members also have the option to turn in their mileage monthly and be paid by the mile based on the state rate at the time.

“I just want to be clear; we are asking to give ourselves (the raise) in this time of (COVID-19)?” Councilwoman Tammy Houston said.

Council Chairman Lennix Madere said was Duhe-Griffin’s proposal and added he noticed “several raises” in the proposed budget. President Jaclyn Hotard said a 3 percent raise was budgeted for civil service employees only. She stressed on more than one occasion that department heads and other exempt employees were not receiving raises.

Voting for the increase were council members Duhe-Griffin, Madere, Warren Torres and Tonia Schnyder. Houston, Michael Wright, Thomas Malik and Robert Arcuri opposed and Councilman Kurt Becnel abstained, the swing vote killing the proposal since the required majority was not reached.

In other council news, Schnyder’s proposed ordinance to add the nomenclature “Christina Marie Green Davis” to the existing Melius Drive in Reserve sparked a lengthy discussion that split council members. Davis, who was raised in Garyville, was a leader in integrating the parish school system in 1965, entering Leon Godchaux High School as a senior.

Houston said she opposed Schnyder’s proposal not because she was against the idea but the way in which it was handled.

Houston noted that at least two other residents had made similar requests in the past but were denied because at this point there are no specific protocols in place for renaming streets. If professional courtesies are not observed, and with no protocols in place, Houston said she would start “renaming streets.”

Schnyder said she offered Houston the opportunity to put the item on the agenda and step aside but was refused.

Houston claims Snyder’s request was after the fact and that she was “not afforded respect.”

Schnyder said she was hoping for the discussion not to turn into a controversy for Davis’ family.

Torres, Duhe-Griffin and Schnyder voted for the motion, with Houston and Wright voting in opposition. In a rare move, three council members abstained and the measure failed.