Library Board proposal & fire trucks draw discussion at Parish Council meeting

Published 8:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2022

LAPLACE — Fire trucks, library parking and name changes were on the minds of St. John the Baptist Council members this past Tuesday night, but garnering most of their attention was a proposal that would have changed the way Library Board members are appointed.

District 2 Councilman Warren Torres introduced an ordinance requiring council members to appoint someone from their respective districts to the board. Torres reasoned that although two of the parish’s three operating libraries are in his district, District 2 has no representation.

A Library Board appointee serves for a five-year term and cannot be removed except for malfeasance or criminal activity, as dictated by state law. In his first term as a council member, Torres has had no opportunity to appoint a board member.

“I think we need the representation; that is the only intent,” said Torres in reply to accusations the proposed ordinance was targeting the Library Board. “A lot of people are trying to twist this around. Each district should be represented.”

Councilwoman Tonia Schnyder agreed, citing the inequality of two libraries located in a council district with no representation on the board.

But disagreement was widespread, and among the dissenters were Councilwoman Tammy Houston and Parish President Jaclyn Hotard. The 50-minute debate was often heated, but ultimately the proposal was defeated 6-3.

Parking for the new library in Reserve was also caught in the crosshairs during discussion of the parish buying a piece of property from the non-profit organization of the St. John Theatre. An ordinance allowing the parish to purchase the property for $37,027 originally appeared a formality but delved into deeper discussion when Houston inquired about how the property would be used.

Library director Andrea Tullos explained the land was always intended to be part of the new development and the intent was to work out an agreement with the St. John Theatre 501c3 organization for its use. But Keith Green of the District Attorney’s office said the D.A.’s office advised the library to buy the lot to “assure the parish would have parking for citizens.”

A brief discussion followed and the ordinance was approved but remnants of that discussion spilled over into the ensuing discussion on the library board appointments.

In other business, fire chief Cain Dufrene was permitted to order two new fire trucks but only after coming under question as why two trucks were needed. Council members also wanted a firm estimate on the cost.

Dufrene explained the combined estimated cost for the new trucks was $1.4 million but added he was already informed that just the cost of the engine was predicted to rise by $12,000 in the upcoming days.

He explained at least two new trucks were needed for the aging 24-unit fleet, which averages more than 16 years per truck.

He told the council one new truck would be equipped for use on the interstate system and be housed at the St. Andrews station. The one currently housed there is close to 25 years old and currently out of service for repairs, leaving the parish vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic accident on the heavily traveled highway, such as what happened recently.

He agreed to a $1.45 million cap and would have to return to the council if the cost exceeds that limit.

He repeatedly told council members he was unsure where the second truck would be housed but it would be determined by the greatest need in 2025, when the trucks are expected to be delivered.

Also during the meeting, the name of the Department of Health and Human Services was changed to the Department of Community Services, which Hotard said better identifies services provided by the department and closer aligns with similar departments in surrounding areas. However, a multi-step process was required, including abolishing the current DHHS, which Schnyder questioned.

Hotard explained that based on the charter language abolishing the department and creating a new one was the cleanest way to accomplish the change, to which Green agreed.

Council members also authorized the parish to advertise for bids to construct a multipurpose complex on the West Bank. The facility will include a basketball court and can be utilized as an emergency shelter.