Recognition program makes street renaming process fair for all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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RESERVE — Until recently, St. John the Baptist Parish did not have a standard set of procedures for renaming public streets and public property in honor of deceased individuals.

The Parish Council voted 5-4 on February 9 to implement a parish wide recognition program to set forth guidelines and make the process fair for all.

Earlier in 2020, two residents hoping to name streets in honor of their loved ones approached District III Councilwoman Tammy Houston for guidance. Without any ordinance in place at the time, Houston directed the residents to talk to their neighbors and gauge how they felt about it.

When October 2020 rolled around, St. John Parish mourned the loss of Christina Marie Green Davis, the first student to integrate Leon Godchaux High School in the fall of 1965. Her important role in parish history as the local school system’s very own “Ruby Bridges” led Council members to consider the process of renaming public streets and property.

Houston said the ordinance was in no way intended to block families from having streets named in their loved one’s honor. She added that Green Davis meets all the criteria under the new ordinance. However, her family, and every family that wishes to have a street named in honor of their loved one, must obtain approval from 51 percent of the property owners on the street.

“I think we all agree that (Ms. Green Davis’) accomplishments deserve to be recognized. I could not disregard those other two individuals and what I asked them to do. I wanted to have a fair procedure for all,” Houston said. “It brings structure to government. This decision was not based on anything personal. It was not in retaliation. I have to be fair to all who ask, and it should not matter if you know me or another councilperson.”

Councilman Kurt Becnel said the new procedure will be something the Parish Council and the public can rely on for years to come. While there was no workshop involved in creating the ordinance (such a procedure would have required a call from the chairperson or six members of the Council), all members had a chance to comment on the ordinance after it was introduced.

Becnel said the ordinance goes the extra mile to put the honoree in the spotlight when it comes to nomenclature, or honorary street names. Nomenclature involves honorary signs posted above the parish street name signs without changing the official name of the street or the official addresses of residences and businesses.

He added that the new procedures call for the honorary signs to be printed in gold, allowing the honoree’s name to stand out.

The approved ordinance for the renaming of public streets and public property in St. John the Baptist Parish does not apply to naming streets that have not yet been dedicated as public streets.

Public streets or other public property cannot be named for an individual until the person has been deceased for a minimum of six months. Public streets or other public property that are already named for a person cannot be renamed; only those with existing generic or geographical names can be renamed under the recognition program.

According to Houston, no public street shall be renamed unless 51 percent of the property owners on the street agree to change the name. This requirement must be met before the request can be placed on the Council’s agenda.

“If you have to have the people who live on the street’s permission to put speed bumps, then when you are changing the name of their street or adding a name to their street, I think that same respect should be granted,” Houston said.

Street names located inside of designated historical districts shall not be changed unless there is a compelling reason. In cases where a person or family member donates property to the parish, their wishes to name the property will be considered favorably; however, the property shall not be named for a living person. The Parish Council is the final authority in all requests to rename public property.

The ordinance approved earlier his month also sets the procedure for renaming property in St. John Parish. No public property shall be renamed without an ordinance introduced to the Parish Council including, at a minimum, an application requesting the name change, the origin and significance of the existing name, the proposed new name, and the reasons for the proposed new name, including biographical information and a person’s contributions to the parish.

The ordinance shall not be adopted without consent from at least 51 percent of property owners on the street. Written notice must be given to all property owners. The estimated cost to change a street name is approximately $200. When all of the requirements are met, the district council representative where the street/property is located must bring the ordinance to the Parish Council for adoption.

Houston noted that the council secretary is in charge of notifying United States Postal Service, the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, the director of the 911 Communications System, the director of Public Works and the St. John Parish School Board of address changes when a street renaming is approved. This takes the burden off of residents.

For a full description of the procedure, please refer to Ordinance 20-54 on page 4B in the Wednesday, February 17 edition of L’OBSERVATEUR. Additional copies are available at the L’OBSERVATEUR office at 116 Newspaper Drive.