CLINTON — A new era in East Feliciana Parish law enforcement begins July 1 when retired corrections official Jeff Travis succeeds four-term Sheriff Talmadge Bunch.
The public is invited to attend the 10 a.m. July 1 program in which Travis, 48, will take the oath of office at the parish courthouse.
Because the courtroom in the 167-year-old building is small by today’s standards, Travis hopes to have the ceremony shown to an expected overflow crowd downstairs via a closed-circuit TV hookup.
“We’ll open court, officially, to record the minutes for historical purposes,” Travis said.
Refreshments will be served after the ceremony.
Clerk of Court David Dart, who also begins a new term July 1, is scheduled to administer the oath of office to Travis.
Travis said he also will host a “meet and greet,” with light refreshments, on the courthouse lawn on July 2, during patriotic activities and the monthly Community Market Day in Clinton.
“This is for anyone who could not come by on Friday. I will try to have as many employees on hand as I can so the public can meet them,” he said.
Travis defeated Bunch and three other opponents in the Oct. 24 primary election, avoiding a runoff by 53 votes.
For about the past four months, Travis said he has been working to staff his administration and trying to gain an understanding of the agency’s finances.
“I’m trying to make sure the organization I want to set up fits within the budget,” he said.
“Responsibility for results and accountability are very important in my organization.”
Earlier, Travis named Greg Phares as his chief deputy over the criminal division and announced that current Chief Civil Deputy Wendy Hooge will remain in that position.
He said he also has chosen Kenny Ray Sanders as warden for the parish jail and work release center and Mark Maples as his chief of patrol. Don McKey will remain as the department’s chief detective, assisted by Kevin Garig.
Phares, a former Baton Rouge police chief, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff and chief investigator for the state inspector general, is a native of the parish.
“I certainly feel blessed to have had the opportunity for Chief Phares to come on board with us. Throughout the days since we’ve made that announcement, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about that particular position. I think he’s going to do a wonderful job,” Travis said.
Travis said the civil office is very important to the agency’s operations because “it’s where the revenue is.”
“It’s very important that we understand the revenue and control the spending. I’m glad that she (Hooge) wanted to stay. She works hard in here every day,” Travis said.
Sanders, a 25-year state corrections veteran, has been studying the jail’s operations, with the cooperation of Bunch and current Chief Deputy Cliff Hurst, nearly every day since Travis agreed to hire him, the sheriff-elect said.
Sanders, a parish native, has “good people skills” that will be needed to meet the many challenges of running a jail, Travis said.
The jail provides about 60 percent of the agency’s general fund revenue, mainly from housing state prisoners and state inmates assigned to a work-release program.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, audited figures show the department received $2.18 million from jail operations, out of $3.8 million in total general fund revenue.
In a parish populated with many tax-averse voters, the agency’s general fund received less than $800,000 in property tax revenue during the 2014-15 fiscal year. A property tax has been set at 5.25 mills for several decades.
Maples also is a 25-year corrections veteran and has law enforcement experience with two sheriffs, the town of Clinton and the federal court’s protective service. He most recently has been a security officer for the state Senate, Travis said.
“He’s had a lot of experience out on the street, and he’s served in several different capacities for the Sheriff’s Office and town of Clinton,” Travis said.
In outlining his goals for the next four years, Travis was careful to avoid criticizing Bunch, saying the outgoing sheriff has been helpful in allowing him and his incoming staff to study the agency’s operations and finances.
“I want to be accessible to the public. I’m going to be in the office. I’m going to spend time in the civil office where people come and do their business. I want them to be able to reach me and talk to me,” Travis said.
When he decided to run for the job, Travis said he “made a commitment that no supporter would work harder than me to get elected.”
“My commitment today is there will not be one employee in this department who will work harder than me to do the job we need to do for the people of this parish,” he said.