West Feliciana Parish President Kevin Couhig will retire at the end of this year after years of pushing for growth and new infrastructure in his parish, aspirations that occasionally put him at odds with other elected officials.
Couhig, who took office in 2013 as West Feliciana’s first parish president, announced Monday that he will leave office Dec. 10. He said in an interview that he hopes to spend more time traveling and enjoying his four grandchildren once he leaves office.
Couhig helped transition West Feliciana Parish from a police jury system of governance to a parish council. As parish president, he has repeatedly tried to drum up support for new neighborhood developments, more businesses and other growth opportunities to help increase the tax base that he warned was not keeping pace with the demand for services.
But other officials and residents in St. Francisville, the parish’s population center, often pushed back against Couhig’s vision, pointing to their city’s historic roots and rural feel in comparison to the congestion of Baton Rouge. Just last week, the West Feliciana Parish Council bucked a request from Couhig to ask voters to rededicate sales taxes from the local hospital to roads and bridges instead.
And Couhig also recently faced a lawsuit from the St. Francisville Board of Aldermen, who objected to his replacement of windows in the town’s 115-year-old courthouse, which sits in a historic district.
“I certainly don’t like, sometimes, the ugliness of politics,” Couhig said Monday. “No one in their right mind would like that. But I’m not worn down, I’m just ready to go on to the next phase of my life.”
Before he became parish president, Couhig worked as assistant secretary of economic development for former Govs. Dave Treen and Edwin Edwards. His run as a Republican for parish president was his first time running for public office, and he said he tried to bring a business-like approach after decades running the investment firm Source Capital, LLC.
Couhig said Monday that he was proudest of implementing a new form of government in West Feliciana, and a long-fought fight with the Louisiana Tax Commission to give West Feliciana more money in taxes collected from an Entergy nuclear plant in St. Francisville. He announced two months ago that the parish would receive $6.6 million in the next year after the Louisiana Tax Commission changed the way the power plant’s taxes were split, which he called “a significant win.”
“The biggest thing that stands out to me, and something I’m most appreciative of, is the way he fought that fight with the tax commission over the River Bend money,” said longtime West Feliciana Sheriff Austin Daniel. “Early on in Kevin’s tenure, he said, ‘We can fix that.’ He took it by the horn and he and two or three others worked their tails off on it and made it happen.”
Daniel said he will miss Couhig, and that they always had mutual respect and worked well together.
State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, said Monday that he is “definitely considering” and “leaning in the direction” of a run for parish president, but has not made a firm decision.
Couhig was “the right guy at the right time” for the parish, Havard said. Havard said he hopes people can let go of the bickering about the courthouse windows and other issues that have been contentious.
Rucker Leake, mayor pro tem for St. Francisville, lamented some of Couhig's actions.
“I just wish he wouldn’t have butchered up the old courthouse in town, and complied with our ordinances,” Leake said, adding that he hopes to have a good working relationship with whoever replaces Couhig.
St. Francisville Mayor Billy D'Aquilla acknowledged Monday that he and Couhig “had some ups and downs,” but he said it was nothing more than politics and that he considers Couhig to be a friend.
Couhig said Monday that he still wishes he could have built a fiber optic system through West Feliciana that would have provided broadband Internet to the parish. Voters rejected a property tax in 2016 that would have paid for the system. Couhig said he respected the voters’ decision but he still wishes the network would have been approved.
And until his retirement date starts, Couhig said he will continue to push for funding for infrastructure, saying he may be more successful in his arguments as residents realize that the money would not be under his future control.
“I want to have a continuing conversation with the public about the need for roads and bridge repairs and maintenance and to set out some options for financing that into the future,” he said. “We don’t currently have the right resources for how we could put those in place.”