Denham Springs residents will choose between two city natives, who say they are committed to helping their city revitalize since the August 2016 floods, when they go to the ballot box Nov. 18 to select a new council member.
Laura Schmitt Smith and Raphineas "Ray" Riley are competing in a runoff election for an at-large seat on the five-person Denham Springs City Council.
One of the candidates will fill the remaining year of the council term of Chris Davis, who left for a job in Mississippi earlier this year. Davis has said he was relocating because of the difficulty rebuilding after floods that inundated three-quarters of Denham Springs' structures.
Riley and Smith rose to the top of a crowded, six-candidate race in the Oct. 14 primary, with Riley getting 354 votes, or 33 percent, and Smith getting 259 votes, or 24 percent, according to the Secretary of State's website.
Drainage and flood recovery are top priorities for candidates trying to claim an open seat on the Denham Springs City Council.
Smith, 46, is a school counselor who has worked in the Lake Charles area and now works as a substitute counselor and teacher in Livingston Parish. The LSU graduate, whose mother is school board member Karen Schmitt, is running as a Republican. She has three children and is a member of First Baptist Church Denham Springs.
Riley, 42, is a supervisor in the child welfare and attendance office for the East Baton Rouge School Board. A Democrat, he is a graduate of Southern University. He's a member of the city's planning and zoning board and an associate minister at First Church of God and Christ in Denham Springs. He is married with four children.
Both candidates grew up in Denham Springs and graduated from Denham Springs High School.
The candidates both say that helping the community recover from last year's devastating flooding is a top priority, but they highlighted in interviews Friday different ideas for doing it.
Smith said she wants to help develop a long-term, strategic drainage maintenance plan, citing concerns she heard from citizens on the campaign trail.
"I want to be more proactive, and have ongoing maintenance where the city goes and cleans ditches and canals on a continuous basis," she said.
Riley said he would continue advocating with state and federal officials for assistance to people struggling to rebuild. He noted that some people are still living in FEMA trailers as a February deadline to move out approaches. He said some people also need help navigating the assistance systems.
"Some are older and may not know how to maneuver as a young person," he said.
Additionally, Riley said, a goal would be to get more services for Denham Springs kids who drop out of classes. City officials have recently discussed bringing in a Boys and Girls Club, but Riley said it would be better to think smaller and work with existing school district programs, such as Students Against Destructive Decisions.
"Denham Springs in the past few months has been having a lot of car burglaries and things like that," he said. "Sometimes, I think the school (system) and city government could work together on programs to try to stop some of these things from happening."
Smith said a secondary goal for her is to attract a developer interested in building more attractive and family-oriented businesses on Florida Boulevard.
DENHAM SPRINGS — The six candidates for the one open seat on the Denham Springs City Council addressed during a debate Thursday a desire to br…
She said she stands out against her competition because of her communication skills and willingness to think through a decision.
For his part, Riley said he is the better choice because he feels he can relate to all people in the city, including the city's black residents, and has campaigned in all parts of the city. Riley said he would also bring needed diversity to the council.
All of the permanent members of the council are white, outside of Arthur Perkins, who is black and is serving on an interim basis. The city is about 15 percent black, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
Smith said she has tried to campaign in the black community but feels most black voters will go for Riley. But she said that she would also represent the interests of the black community if elected.
Both candidates said, if elected for the special one-year term, they would run again for the full four-year term in 2018.