DENHAM SPRINGS — Candidates for parish president and sheriff in Livingston Parish kept their comments civil Tuesday night at a forum attended by more than 150 people.
With those elections almost three months away, the three candidates for sheriff and the three for parish president focused on their own qualifications and visions, while keeping most of their jabs at opponents subtle.
The most ominous words came from H.B. “Cookie” Billingsley, a candidate for sheriff, who said crime changed quickly for the worse in Baton Rouge, where he was a police officer, and that it is worsening in Livingston Parish.
Billingsley, 65, said he can’t compete with the billboards of the other two sheriff’s candidates, but said contributors want access to the candidates they help elect.
Sheriff’s candidate Mickey McMorris said law enforcement is “broken.”
His most pointed comment was that the $20 million Sheriff’s Office budget isn’t being used properly, and he would use competitive bidding or state contracts to make sure taxpayers are getting the best prices possible.
No incumbent is running in the sheriff’s race, but candidate Jason Ard, who is chief criminal deputy, said the large majority of people in the parish are law abiding and the parish has a “wonderful Sheriff’s Office” that is working to maintain community involvement essential to successful law enforcement.
Ard, 38, said he had dedicated his adult life to that office, which he joined when he was 20.
The election is about experience and leadership, Ard said.
“I know where we have been. I know where we are today. I know where we need to be,” he said.
“I have been shot at and bled for Livingston Parish,” he said.
Billingsley, 65, made a similar comment, saying he has been shot, beat up, operated on and stitched up more times than he can count.
McMorris, who retired from Louisiana State Police with the rank of lieutenant colonel, promised quicker response times, reduced access to illegal drugs in schools and investigations of all allegations of corruption.
“We can’t fix all the problems, but we certainly can start,” said McMorris, 48.
In the parish president’s race, Donald Burgess brought up the Hurricane Gustav debris cleanup dispute, which is an underlying issue in the race.
Burgess said he hasn’t been involved in the debris issue, but he would deal with it if elected.
Mike Grimmer, the incumbent, said he stood up on the debris issue. He said he also stood up against the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it wanted to put a trailer park in Livingston Parish after Hurricane Katrina. He reminded people in the audience how he challenged FEMA’s move to make flood map changes that would result in many residents having to purchase flood insurance.
“Our land values are good,” Grimmer said. “Our way of life is good.”
“We’ve just begun to reach our economic potential,” said Grimmer, 57. “Let’s finish what we’ve started.”
Layton Ricks, operations manager for the Alvin Fairburn and Associates engineering firm and a former member of the Denham Springs Council, said he thinks the people of Livingston Parish deserve a leader who will listen.
Ricks said growth is coming to the parish, but the important thing is to grow responsibly.
“We also need to remember the mom and pop businesses that have been here for years,” said Ricks, 56.
He said the parish needs to have U.S. 190 widened to four lanes and Interstate 12 widened to eight.
He said he would work to get the money to do those things.
“I can work with local, state and federal officials,” he said.
Burgess, 69, said the parish needs infrastructure improvements and he understands the process of getting them because he worked for the state highway department for 34 years and is a former Livingston Parish planning director.
Burgess said he would like to see a community college developed in the parish.
“There must be a cooperative spirit between the executive branch of parish government and the sitting council,” Burgess said.
The forum was hosted by the Citizens for Highways and Infrastructure for Livingston Parish.