Roadwork, drainage and quelling disputes that push politics ahead of progress are recurring themes with the candidates seeking election in five suburban and rural districts of the Livingston Parish Council.
Districts 1, 6, 7, 8 and 9 cover the bulk of the parish geographically, sweeping from Juban Road east to Albany and Lake Maurepas north to St. Helena Parish.
Early voting for the Oct. 24 primary election ends Saturday.
In District 1, which includes the town of Livingston and extends north to the St. Helena Parish line, one-term incumbent Chance Parent is facing a challenge from Jeff Ard, brother to Sheriff Jason Ard. Both candidates are Republicans.
Parent, 31, said his top priorities for the next term would include continuing road improvements, building a civic center and funding animal control.
Parent said he would like to see state law changed so Livingston could assess a per-household fee to fund parishwide animal control services — an option he explored during his first term. He also hopes to work with legislators to find money for a civic center.
“There’s nothing here other than the fairgrounds, in terms of a nice facility for hosting the Police Jury Association or other events, activities and entertainment for the parish,” he said.
Parent, who owns computer and phone repair businesses and has a 25 percent stake in Livingston Waste, said the council also must focus on implementing the parish’s master plan and must improve drainage.
Jeff Ard, 45, said he’s been hanging signs for other candidates since he was 8 years old, including for his uncle James Sibley, who was a police juror for 12 years, and for his brother’s first campaign for sheriff.
But this is Jeff Ard’s first campaign for anything other than the parish’s Republican Party Executive Committee, where he represents the district.
Ard, a supervisor for Vector Electric & Controls in Gonzales, said he is running for Parish Council because “there’s a need for someone that has experience getting a group of people to work together as a team.” From coaching sports to serving as the head of safety and incident committees at work, Ard said he has “always been that guy.”
One of his areas of focus as a councilman would be to reassess how the parish’s road improvement money is allocated. “I know the town of Livingston hasn’t been getting their fair share,” he said.
In District 6, which runs south of Interstate 12 at Walker and Livingston to Port Vincent and French Settlement, Councilwoman Sonya Collins has decided not to seek a second term. Vying for the seat are newcomers Jeff Averett, Carter Lambert and Earl Richard Price. All three are Republicans.
Averett, 47 and a pipe fitter and boilermaker for Turner Industries, said he is seeking a seat on the council “to bring honesty, respect and character back to the board.”
“I want to try to bring some unity to our Parish Council,” Averett said. “That’s a major problem we have, that they can’t get along with each other.”
If elected, Averett said he would like to find ways to improve drainage in the district, which includes some of the parish’s more flood-prone areas, and work with other parish leaders for more economic growth.
Averett previously served as a board member for Livingston’s Recreation District 5 and for the Colyell Community Ballpark. He also is an avid hunter, serving as secretary-treasurer for the Gum Swamp Hunting Club for several years and as a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Lambert, 36 and owner of Lambert’s Wildlife Service, said he is running for office “to bring our parish out of the dark ages a bit. The whole parish is pretty much run by the same good ol’ boys that haven’t changed anything but just have their own personal issues they try to get accomplished.
“Livingston Parish is one of the only ones that still doesn’t have animal control,” Lambert continued.
If elected, Lambert said he planned to focus on road improvements and economic development in rural parts of the parish where he says residents are neglected.
“Many landowners are paying taxes but get put to the side,” he said.
Price, 48, said he always has had a strong interest in the council and followed parish politics mostly as “a watchdog.”
“But I didn’t have much success at it that way, and I figured the only way to do something about it is to get into office,” he said.
As a manager for Richard Price Contracting, which his father founded in 1982, Price said he stands to lose business if elected, because his company could no longer work projects for the parish. But he said his knowledge of roads and drainage would make him an asset to parish government.
Price said his experience negotiating deals also will enable him to work with other council members without bickering.
If elected, he would implement the parish’s master plan, keeping in mind that “what’s good for big subdivisions would not work for Colyell.”
In District 7, which includes most of Walker and its immediate surroundings, one-term incumbent Ricky Goff will square off against Walker City Councilman Tracy Girlinghouse. Both men are Republicans.
Goff, 51 and a business development manager for Coca-Cola in Baton Rouge, said he’s seeking a second term because four years was not long enough to get much done beyond resolving the parish’s “complicated political problems.”
“But the rough part of the road is behind us now, and I want to get some more projects in the hopper for funding so we can move this parish forward,” he said.
In addition to extending Juban Road, a project Goff has ardently supported, other priorities he wants to see move forward include traffic planning around the Livingston Parish Industrial Park on the east end of Walker and widening Duff Road to improve safety.
Goff also wants to explore the possibility of having developers turn residential sewer systems over to the parish, along with a development’s roads, and eventually to connect them as a single parishwide sewer system.
Goff said the perception of the council as a bickering bunch is misplaced: “We all get along and can go to dinner together. But we made sure we talked out our differences out front instead of in some back room and with that comes passion and some strong opinions sometimes.”
Girlinghouse, 45 and a biomedical service technician for Performance Medical Group out of Lafayette, said the division amongst council members and between them and Parish President Layton Ricks is why he is running for the District 7 seat.
“I don’t ever want to be a fourth-year politician where nothing gets done until the end,” Girlinghouse said. “We’ll be at the point soon where businesses won’t come to Livingston because they will see all the struggle and no overall plan.”
Widening the Walker Road overpass at I-12 would be one of Girlinghouse’s top priorities. The project — estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million but not yet funded — is among many options the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is studying to improve traffic flow in and around Walker.
“Juban extension is a great idea, but it’s just that — an idea,” Girlinghouse said. “I believe it will happen, but I believe La. 447 (Walker Road) should be the focus.”
Girlinghouse also plans to focus on drainage improvements, particularly along Dumplin and West Colyell creeks, which he said must be cleaned out before downstream drains can do their job.
In District 8, the parish’s largest and most rural district encompassing Springfield, Maurepas and Killian, longtime Councilman Ronnie Sharp decided not to seek re-election. Vying for the seat are newcomer Tab Lobell and former Livingston Parish Police Juror Roy Miller.
Lobell, 43 and owner of Lobell’s Waterfront Construction, said the hottest topic in his district is flooding.
“The folks in Maurepas are pretty fired up about the different possibilities that could keep them from getting as much water,” he said, adding that he is unsure what is possible but eager to help them work toward some solutions.
Lobell, who also serves as a reserve deputy with the Sheriff’s Office and teaches concealed-carry handgun classes, sees himself as a business-minded person who could work well with others on the council and help the parish thrive.
“I see a lot of changes coming to Livingston Parish, and I think they can be exciting changes,” he said. “We have so many natural resources that, if properly tapped, would be great assets, but if not, it’s just another thing.”
Miller, 76 and a two-time police juror in 1976-80 and 1984-88, said he is running for the Parish Council because “I wanted something to do, and I’m experienced with it, and I know what I’m doing.”
Miller said one of his priorities as councilman would be to work toward the construction of a bridge across the Amite River, connecting La. 63 south of Livingston to La. 22 at Whitehall, just west of Maurepas.
The new road and bridge would provide a vital evacuation route for residents in the southernmost part of the parish, while also giving workers another route south to the plants along the lower Mississippi River, he said.
Miller said he also would like to see a recreation district established for the families in the southernmost part of the parish.
In District 9, which runs from the Albany area to the northeast corner of the parish, one-term incumbent Delos Blackwell is facing challenges from Shane Mack and Bryant Morgan.
Blackwell, 66 and a Democrat, said he is seeking a second term because the district needs someone who is accessible, accountable and dependable.
“I think you need to have someone with leadership, wisdom and knowledge, and I think that comes with age,” he said. “And I think my record shows that.”
Blackwell said the district faces a lot of drainage issues that he would like to continue to help address, as well as finishing the road program and fostering economic growth in the area.
Blackwell is a retired boilermaker and businessman who handed down Blackwell’s Automotive in Albany and Hammond to his son. He continues to operate Blackwell’s Mobile Home Park.
Mack, 42 and a Republican, said he is running for the council seat to help end the fighting between the council and parish president.
Mack, who works in logistics at Dow Chemical, said his priorities as a councilman would include forming a drainage district for the eastern side of the parish, funding the parish animal shelter and revising ordinances to make them more easily understandable.
Mack also said he would help cut “wasteful spending” so money could be reallocated for road improvements, canal clearing and bridge repairs.
Mack said he has experience with work orders, supervising contractors and managing budgets, and he pledged to be accessible to constituents.
Morgan, the third candidate seeking the District 9 seat, could not be reached for an interview for this story.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.