Infrastructure, economic development and building a civic center top the list of priorities for the 11 Denham Springs-area candidates seeking seats on the Livingston Parish Council.
The Denham Springs races include Districts 2 through 5 of the council’s nine seats. Early voting for the Oct. 24 primary starts Saturday.
In the north Watson-area District 2 race, incumbent Jim Norred faces challengers Darla Steagall and Garry “Frog” Talbert. All three are Republicans.
Norred, who works for General Dynamics Information Technology, said he is seeking a second term because he “would like to continue to help lead our district and move Livingston Parish forward.”
Norred, 59, said during his first term he has taken on “tough battles most politicians tend to side-step.”
One battle that raised his profile in 2014 was the dispute with Southern Aggregates over a gravel pit operation that will be located next to Norred’s subdivision of Oak Hills. Norred authored much of the parish’s new mining regulations, which drew the industry’s ire.
Norred also supports implementation of the parish’s adopted master plan and has pledged to support economic development, fight for more accountability in public spending and work for better roads and construction prioritization.
Steagall, 63, retired and a registered lobbyist, said roads are her No. 1 priority. Her husband’s daily two-hour trek from Shintech in Plaquemine has convinced her that Watson residents need another access route to East Baton Rouge Parish, like the proposed extension of Hooper Road.
Steagall also wants to see La. 16 widened to four lanes for the remaining 6 miles north of Springfield Road to the St. Helena Parish line, to reduce bottlenecks around Live Oak High School and make it safer for drivers to turn left onto the highway.
If elected, Steagall said she also plans to focus on fiscal responsibility, regaining mosquito abatement services and ending the squabbling between the parish president and council.
A two-time breast cancer survivor, Steagall said of her council run: “I figured I’ve got another chance here. Let’s see what I can do good with my life.”
Talbert, 53 and owner of a fuel distributor and truck stop, said growing up with a minister for a father instilled in him a desire to serve.
He was a board member for the parish’s Recreation District 2, before Norred removed him in 2012, which the councilman said was because it was “time to give someone else a chance to serve their community.” For his part, Talbert said the failure of the recreation district’s tax renewal this past December convinced him to seek the council seat.
Talbert said his goals as councilman would include removing the Department of Public Works’ expenses from the parish’s road sales tax fund and ensuring that a neutral engineer sets the parish’s road construction priorities, instead of dividing the money evenly among districts.
He also stressed the importance of zoning commercial corridors, like La. 16 through Watson, so that developers and residents alike will know what to expect for future growth.
In District 3, northeast of Denham Springs’ city limits, three candidates are vying to replace Councilwoman Cindy Wale Franz, who decided not to seek a third term.
Paeton Burkett, 45 and a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, said she is running for the seat because “I love Livingston Parish and want to do everything I can to see it flourish and move forward in a positive manner.”
Burkett is a personal injury attorney with Gordon McKernan’s firm, serving clients in Livingston Parish. She previously served as Denham Springs city attorney under former Mayor Jimmy Durbin and has been an attorney for the Louisiana State Police and East Baton Rouge Parish attorney’s office.
Burkett also serves on the development committee for Knock Knock Children’s Museum in Baton Rouge.
Her husband, Eric, is a Baton Rouge police officer. They have two children, who both attend Denham Springs public schools.
Maurice “Scooter” Keen, 50 and a Republican, said he’s seeking election because it’s time to give back to the community that has supported his family’s dry cleaning business for decades.
Keen, called “the cooler” by his wife for his ability to defuse tense situations, said he can work with anybody in parish government because he knows that “cooler heads will prevail every time.” That kind of calm deliberation has been lacking over the past four years, he said.
Keen said, if elected, he plans to focus on implementing the parish’s master plan, zoning commercial corridors and increasing the number of north-south traffic routes in the parish.
A self-described animal lover and state chairman for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Keen said funding animal control is also a priority, though he would not favor putting a proposition on the ballot until the parish set a workable budget for the program.
Brian Ross, 46 and a Republican, said his outgoing personality and business experience as owner of OK Computers and previously as a loan officer, would make him a good fit for the District 3 seat.
A Massachusetts native who has lived in Livingston Parish since 2004, Ross said the parish has grown so quickly that “people are starting to lose sight of why the parish excelled in the first place, and they’re leaving to the wayside the people who should be taking credit, which is the elderly who have been here supporting the community and its schools.”
Ross said the parish should do more to find grant funding to help its elderly residents, whether through utility bill assistance or security for their homes, as well as increase funding to law enforcement to keep the community safe.
Ross also stressed the importance of implementing the parish’s master plan to keep disputes from arising between competing interests.
In District 4, which lies mostly within the city limits of Denham Springs, five-term incumbent Marshall Harris is facing a challenge from former Denham Springs City Councilman John Wascom. Both men are Republicans.
Harris, 59 and a salesman for Ferguson Pipe, said his service on the council has given him invaluable experience in how parish government functions and what needs to be done, particularly with the budget.
Harris said there are projects he would like to see through to completion, including the extension of Juban Road north from Florida Boulevard to Lockhart Road, more improvements at North Park and the construction of a civic center.
“Obviously, we also need to be able to look at on- and off-ramps at Pete’s Highway and 4-H Club Road and anything else that can help move traffic north and south,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of continuing to foster economic development.
Wascom, owner of a car wash business with four locations, also touts government experience, having served on the City Council in 1995-98 and 2003-14. He lost a mayoral bid last year by 111 votes.
“A government can do a lot to help business, but sometimes they do a lot to hurt, too,” he said. “I think I bring a good balance on that.”
Wascom said he would like to see the parish “really buckle down and fix its traffic problems with long-term solutions, rather than quick fixes.” One solution would be to build another bridge across the Amite River, he said.
He also plans to focus on building a civic center, where the parish could host conventions and entertainment events.
In District 5, south of Denham Springs, one-term incumbent Joan Landry is being challenged by political newcomer Jimmy Devall and former Livingston Parish Police Juror R.C. “Bubba” Harris.
Landry, 61 and a Republican, said she is seeking re-election “because four years just isn’t long enough to do the job.”
The parish continues to face significant infrastructure challenges, “not just roads but parishwide sewage and drainage issues as well,” she said.
Owner of a Denham Springs insurance agency since 1987, Landry said building a parishwide sewage system is particularly important for economic development.
“There are places on Florida Boulevard where larger businesses can’t locate because they can’t get sewer (service),” she said. “We have to get it down the I-12 economic corridor. That’s vital to our growth.”
Landry also expressed excitement about the potential for a parish civic center.
She said a Satsuma-area landowner recently offered to donate 25-30 acres for that purpose, though the deal has not been finalized.
Devall, 43, a Democrat and a painter and blaster for Industrial Coatings Contractors in Prairieville, said he is seeking election to try to make a difference for his community.
A resident of Eastover, Devall said he lives in a tough neighborhood, prone to violence and where young children roam the streets late into the evening.
Devall pleaded guilty in 2002 to simple battery, following a fight in which he said his younger brother “was getting the mess beat out of him” by a group of guys, and Devall felt like he had to jump in to defend him.
Devall, whose six-month sentence was suspended, said he hasn’t gotten into any fights since then and would like to help improve conditions in his neighborhood and the surrounding community.
His areas of focus would include creating an after-school program to give children a place to play and do homework and improving the parish’s animal control program to reduce the number of stray animals roaming the community.
Harris, 66 and a Republican, said he is running for a seat on the council because “there is just too much animosity, bickering and not being able to get along amongst the board members now.”
A Livingston police juror from 1980-88, Harris said his 46-year marriage is one of his best qualifications for the seat.
“People look at me funny when I say that, but we have worked together and talked things out to make it work, and I feel that that’s what we need on the council right now,” Harris said.
Harris said improving roads and drainage are top priorities. He also said he is against raises for council members — a proposal offered by Landry late last year — unless the public has an opportunity to vote on it.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.