FRANKLIN — The St. Mary Parish Council said no to a full-time parish president after a year of banter discussing the pros and cons of the possibility.
The council voted 8-3 during its meeting Wednesday night to cast down the idea, with council members Rev. Craig Mathews, Dale Rogers and Jay Ina voting in favor of the idea.
The three proponents, who represent west St. Mary Parish, expressed their dissatisfaction during and after the meeting.
Ina scolded his colleagues, “Do you all know how asinine we look up here after talking about this since last August? Really?”
Mathews had one message, “The parish charter needs to be burned. Let’s burn the damn thing.”
It was Rogers who first brought the matter before the council last year, namely as a means for the parish president to spur economic development. Rogers voiced his frustration afterwards.
“This is an embarrassment to me and to this parish, as to the way this parish council operates,” Rogers said. “They’re a no-action council, they’re afraid to make a move. They all have these bright ideas, but no one will do any research, to bring any kind of a document to the table.”
Rogers said the council even held a special meeting where every member of the council voted to bring the idea to a final ordinance resolution, for a vote as to whether or not it would appear on this fall’s ballot.
“Now they’ve come up behind the scenes because one or two of them have a bright idea, a way to change it,” Rogers said. “Well if they had one, they should have introduced a substitute ordinance tonight. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s time to make something happen in this parish.”
Since the parish’s charter was written in 1983, the office of parish president has been a part-time job with a salary of $12,000 and a few small perks.
Councilman Paul Naquin, who previously served as parish president for two terms, was one of the members of the council who voted no to a full-time chief, who would have earned a starting annual salary of $78,000.
“I voted no because first, the public isn’t going to go for this. Secondly, the charter needs to be changed. Right now, the parish president has no power, so what is he going to do, if the charter stands as it is written?” Naquin asked by phone on Thursday.
Councilman Glen Hidalgo also agreed with Naquin that the charter changes need to be addressed.
Secondly, he said parish residents voted against a motion in the mid 1990s which would have created a full-time parish president. He believes it again would fail to pass.
“Probably my biggest objection to the way this ordinance was written, is the fact that we have a chief administrative officer who runs the parish, not the parish president. I don’t know if this parish really warrants a full time man, even though I realize folks like to do business with the parish president — they don’t come by asking to meet the CAO,” Hidalgo said.
A comparison of neighboring parishes from the council’s clerk ranks St. Mary Parish at the bottom in paying its parish president. Iberia pays $118,906; St. Martin, $158,073; Terrebonne, $126,801; and Lafourche, $121,872.
Additionally, the salaries of the parish mayors are higher than that of parish president: Baldwin at $36,336; Franklin, $60,000; Patterson, $36,000; Berwick, $36,000; and Morgan City, $63,000.
Hidalgo said the parish CAO earns a salary of $90,000.
“So what are we going to do with our CAO if the parish president takes some of his duties. What are our people going to say? There are still many unanswered questions here,” Hidalgo said.
In another matter, District 11 Fire Chief Clarence Clark told the council Acadian Ambulance response times are seriously lagging in some cases.
“I would like for the parish to review its contract with Acadian Ambulance, if there is indeed one,” Clark said. “On one call, Acadian never arrived to the fire station for a cardiac emergency. I ended up bringing the patient to the hospital myself, where she later passed away. This past Saturday, it took them nearly 40 minutes to arrive for a possible stroke.”
Clark’s district encompasses the western end of St. Mary from just outside the Franklin city limits to Jeanerette.
“We have many other instances. These are just a few. There is an Acadian Ambulance station in Franklin, and one in Iberia. However, if my residents are paying for their service, they deserve better response times than this,” Clark added.
No one from Acadian Ambulance was present to speak on Wednesday.
Parish President David Hanagriff said he and CAO Henry “Bo” LaGrange will look into the situation. Councilman Mathews meanwhile said he wants a representative from Acadian Ambulance to appear before the council. Hanagriff said he would make the request.