The heat in the Livingston Parish President’s race rarely bubbled to the surface in the primary.
The undercurrents were visible mainly in newspaper ads and on Internet sites.
That appears to be changing with both candidates voicing jabs at one another.
After leading the Oct. 22 voting, but finding himself forced into a runoff with Layton Ricks, Parish President Mike Grimmer said he will take a harder-nosed approach in the days leading to the Nov. 19 runoff.
After the votes were counted in October, Grimmer said he “tried to keep the campaign clean” in the primary, but he needs to “start laying the facts out there.”
One of the first facts to surface after the primary was that Donald Burgess, who ran third with 15 percent of the vote, endorsed Ricks, who received 40 percent.
Grimmer, who received 45 percent of the vote, reacted quickly.
In a news release, Grimmer’s campaign alleged Ricks violated state law by offering a parish job to Burgess.
Ricks and Burgess both said there was no such offer.
“It’s sad to see he is willing to drag an innocent man like Don Burgess into the mud like this,” Ricks fired back.
“If he wants to get ugly and take the gloves off, that just confirms what we have been saying,” Ricks said. “People are tired of his attitude” and his inability to get along with other officials.
Grimmer said there are a lot of issues that he has had to stand up about; at times that means not getting along with some people.
The big issues in the campaign are hurricane debris cleanup and roads, and Ricks has been “right in the middle” of both of them, Grimmer said.
Ricks is the office manager for an engineering firm that was involved in monitoring the hurricane cleanup work and in performing engineering work for the parish’s overlay program.
Despite a resolution from the Livingston Parish Council, Grimmer refused to pay a bill from the firm for road planning that Grimmer said he hadn’t approved.
The firm obtained a mandamus from 21st Judicial District Court ordering Grimmer to pay. Grimmer is appealing.
It’s that kind of attitude that caused Grimmer to have a continual battle with council members, and it’s why he’s lost the support of so many public officials, Ricks said.
Ricks said, if elected, he will have an open-door policy for council members so they can work together to solve parish problems.
“When you disagree, keep it on the issues and don’t make it personal,” Ricks said.
Ricks said Grimmer is aware that Ricks’ job with the engineering firm, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, is office manager and that Ricks is not in charge of the road and hurricane projects to which Grimmer has tried to link him.
Ricks said Grimmer is throwing mud and “hoping some of it sticks.”
Ricks said he thinks Grimmer is wrong to use money from a sales tax dedicated to roads to pay Department of Public Works employees.
DPW employees should be paid from the general fund, Ricks said.
The sales tax money was dedicated for resurfacing roads and not for paying DPW workers, Ricks said.
Grimmer replied that DPW plays an important role in road maintenance, which justifies using the tax funds to pay DPW workers.
He said there isn’t enough money in the general fund to pay DPW employees and that an auditor has determined it is OK to use sales tax revenue to pay DPW workers.
On the hurricane cleanup issue, Grimmer questioned the propriety of some cleanup work after Hurricane Gustav in 2008. He halted the cleanup and refused to accept and disburse federal payments until the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the work.
That brought an angry response from many contractors that had worked on the cleanup.
Grimmer said he didn’t want the parish to get audited and have to repay funds to FEMA after the parish had distributed those funds to contractors.
FEMA eventually denied more than $50 million of the parish’s cleanup costs.
Ricks said it’s obvious that some of the cleanup work denied by FEMA is eligible for federal payment, and he hopes to get FEMA to pay the parish for that work.
He said he would work for the appeal to FEMA and not against it and wouldn’t throw up roadblocks to the parish’s appeal.
Grimmer failed to make a good-faith effort to get the parish paid, Ricks said.
“The parish certainly doesn’t have that kind of money,” Ricks said of the $53 million for which the parish is being sued by its main contractor, International Equipment Distributors Inc.
Grimmer said the cleanup issue is complicated, and it is one of the areas in which he intends to lay out the facts, including that unnecessary and expensive work was done.
Ricks said that if he is elected he will have a cleanup plan in place before the next hurricane strikes.
Grimmer said he has one.
Grimmer also said wants to debate Ricks, but that he wants it to be a “real debate” rather than “a social” like the forums held before the primary. In those, the candidates made statements, but did not participate in a debate.
Grimmer said Ricks has had three opportunities to debate but hasn’t accepted any.
“We had the option to do that for six months,” Ricks said of a debate. “Now he wants to set a date on a night when I have a fundraiser.”
The runoff election probably will have a lower turnout because most races have been decided, Ricks said.
“I don’t know how to analyze that,” he said. “I don’t know if it bodes well for me or Mike.
Having four council races active in the parish may help to get voters out, Ricks said.
Grimmer, who has found himself pitted against a majority of the council during his second term, said he is pleased with the way the council races have gone so far.
Of the six council members who most often opposed Grimmer’s measures, only Ronnie Sharp won re-election.
Two of Grimmer’s biggest opponents on the council - Jimmie McCoy and Don Wheat - didn’t seek re-election.
Two other regular critics of Grimmer - Randy Rushing and Eddie Wagner - are in runoffs.
Rushing faces Chance Parent in District 1 and Wagner faces Delos Blackwell in District 9.
No incumbent is involved in the other two races in which Sonya Ohmer Collins faces Scott Jones for the District 6 seat, and Dean Erwin battles James “Jim” Norred Jr. in District 2.
Grimmer’s two strongest council supporters, Marshal Harris and Cindy Wale, won re-election.