HAMMOND — A forum for Tangipahoa Parish president candidates Wednesday pitted a private-sector executive against a former parish councilman, as the two men sought to draw distinctions in their views of the presidency and how they would tackle the parish’s toughest issues.
Robby Miller and Carlos Notariano, both Republicans from Hammond, are running to succeed Gordon Burgess, the only president the parish has had since adopting its home rule charter in 1986. Both men previously sought the job — Miller in 2007, Notariano in 2011 — and were defeated by narrow margins.
Nick Ogima, a Democrat from Hammond who also had qualified to seek the seat this year, withdrew from the race late Tuesday after a meeting with Notariano.
In a news release Wednesday morning, Ogima endorsed Notariano for president. Ogima said he neither requested nor was offered anything during his talk with Notariano, but he realized his “candidacy and the votes (he) anticipated receiving would only complicate” the race, as the two men share similar views.
A fourth candidate, Sean Granger, of Ponchatoula, did not participate in Wednesday’s forum, which was sponsored by the Hammond, Ponchatoula and Amite chambers of commerce and the Southeastern Louisiana University Student Government Association.
Miller and Notariano differed on a range of topics, from the experience necessary to be president to how they would handle the dispute with Sheriff Daniel Edwards over jail expenses.
“Parish government isn’t easy. It’s something to be reckoned with,” Notariano said. He said his 12 years of service on the Parish Council enabled him to have not only the ideology but also the practical knowledge required to be parish president.
Miller said the presidency is an executive position, not legislative, and stressed his experience in the private sector as chief executive officer of a computer consulting and information technology company.
“Not being a career politician is an absolute asset to this job,” Miller said, adding that he carried no preconceived notions and would be innovative in his approach.
Both men emphasized their leadership abilities.
Responding to a question about uniting a frequently divided Parish Council behind projects of parishwide importance, Notariano said he had seen too many voting deadlocks while the parish president stood by and watched it happen.
“I think the parish presidency is a bigger job than that,” Notariano said. “I won’t let a good project fall to the wayside because of personalities and egos on the council.”
Miller said he spent most of his life uniting different groups and, whether the topic was litter abatement, supporting the parish’s school system or resolving the dispute over jail expenses, made collaboration and teamwork a theme in his remarks.
On the jail expenses, Miller said he intends to work toward resolution with the sheriff, who has sent monthly demand letters since January, itemizing costs the Sheriff’s Office had previously borne but will no longer pay. Miller said the law spells out certain costs each side must pay but also contains many “gray areas” he hopes to work through in collaboration with the sheriff.
Miller also said the parish’s taxpayers would be instrumental in determining how the parish government spends its finite resources — a point Notariano seized upon to suggest Miller would seek a tax increase to help fund operations at the jail. Miller later denied the charge.
Still, the two men stood in sharp opposition on the issue, with Notariano saying there was plenty of money in the budget to address the aging jail’s costs if the Sheriff’s Office would only “tighten its belt” and “dig deep in its pockets.”
Notariano also suggested the sheriff should find a way to reallocate some of the jail beds currently used by state and federal inmates, despite the additional money they bring to the Sheriff’s Office.
Both candidates stressed the importance of bringing additional economic development to the parish.
Miller said the parish should try to bring in business executives visiting Baton Rouge or New Orleans to show them Tangipahoa’s assets, as well as continue to collaborate on workforce initiatives.
Notariano said Tangipahoa must donate more resources to the cause, noting that St. Tammany has a $479,000 annual budget for economic development, compared with only $109,000 in Tangipahoa.
“That’s unacceptable. You cannot sell this parish from a desk on Martens Drive,” he said, referring to the Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation’s Hammond office address.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, or call her at (225) 336-6981.