ST. FRANCISVILLE — In a contest much like a game of musical chairs around the St. Francisville Board of Aldermen table in Town Hall, nine candidates will compete for four seats when voters head to the polls for the Nov. 8 primary election.
Three of the candidates are incumbents: Abby Cochran, James “Rucker” Leake and James C. “Jimmy” Davis. They are being challenged by Damon Dawson, Joseph B. Kelly, Owen Kemp, Karen St. Cyr, Susanne “Susie” Tully and Lea Reid Williams.
Gigi Thomas-Robertson, an incumbent Democrat, won automatic re-election for the Section 1 seat because she did not face any opposition. Alderman Robert “Bobee” Leake is running for St. Francisville mayor.
The candidates are vying for the four at-large seats. Early voting begins Oct. 25.
Cochran, 46, an independent, has served as an alderman since 2006. She is the principal of West Feliciana High School.
As for the biggest challenge facing St. Francisville in the next four years, Cochran said, “I believe we must work hard to foster and manage economic development and continue the growth of the Highway 61 corridor while maintaining the historic core, charm and small town nature of St. Francisville.”
Davis, a 73, Democrat, is the longest-serving incumbent with 28 years and is retired from the James River paper mill. He believes the town needs to maintain the path it's headed and continue working on projects such as the Burnett Road bridge.
“We need to continue to get the infrastructure fixed up like the roads overlay project,” said Davis. “That includes Royal Street fixed up and see us accomplish something with that. There are other little projects like keeping the water wells up. We’ve done well so far. The main reason I’m running is I love this little town.”
Dawson, 47, an Independent and political newcomer, is a licensed cosmetologist and cosmetology instructor. He’s a cook at The Francis.
“The next four years are very crucial for St Francisville,” said Dawson, who is running for office for the first time. “The 2016 great flood devastated the southern and eastern growth areas of Baton Rouge. With the Mississippi River to the west, that leaves the high ground north as the safest bet. It's more important now, than ever to tackle all infrastructure problems."
Joseph B. Kelly, 49, a Republican, is an operations shift manager at Entergy and he said he is committed to the community and schools. Kelly believes the recent flooding will change the direction of growth in the Baton Rouge region because many of the areas that were growing suffered from flooding.
“This in turn will curb the growth in these areas (at least short term) and I believe that will impact our area, which did not flood, with new growth,” Kelly said. “In short, we do need to grow the tax base but manage the growth carefully as to not change St. Francisville to something different than what people are currently coming here for. I realize this is a delicate and difficult task/subject but with careful planning and what’s best for the community in mind it is not impossible.”
Kemp, 66, a Republican, ran for the Police Jury in 2006 but was not elected. She has served on the Louisiana Pest Control Association.
“The challenge is to retain our unique and wonderful way of life while continuing to be economical sound,” Kemp said of challenges facing the town over the next four years.
James Leake, 77, a Republican, worked for 40 years in the wholesale petroleum business before retiring in 2006. He currently works part-time for the sheriff as an assistant director of Homeland Security and Emergency Planning and is mayor pro tem.
The biggest challenge facing the town is “to continue building on the foundation the present council has developed," Leake said. "The citizens actively participated as stakeholders in developing our Growth Management Plan.
“With that as our foundation, the board then developed new Planning and Zoning codes," Leake said. "The fruits of that can now be seen in the beauty and design in the developments in the Hwy 61 commercial corridor. New signage and landscaping plans proposed for that corridor can now be viewed in Town Hall and we are developing streetscaping plans for Ferdinand and and Royal Street with input from all the property owners along the way.”
St. Cyr, 61, a Democrat, is running for office for the first time. She is the director of public affairs for the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and will retire in January.
“As a community we are unique and enjoy an excellent quality of life and the future promises to be even better,” said St. Cyr. “The town of St. Francisville’s greatest challenge is to preserve our town’s rich cultural and historic values, yet manage the future growth and change that is in keeping with the rural and natural setting.
“The growth of small business, creating new jobs, and supporting tourism are all important for St. Francisville’s local economy and future success. The town and parish are growing and the need to respond, build upon, and improve St. Francisville’s critical infrastructure assets such as roads, water, sewer drainage and other opportunities over the long term is essential.”
Tully, 53, an Independent, is a wife, mother and community volunteer. She also provides part-time administrative and technical support for small businesses and organizations and previously worked for 20 years in the chemical industry.
This is her first attempt at political office although she is the immediate past president of the Audubon Pilgrimage, the chairman of the tourist commission and president of the Historical Society. Tully opposes any attempts for a city-parish form of government in West Feliciana.
“If elected, I will work diligently to maintain St. Francisville as an incorporated municipality,” Tully said. “The town is a residential and business hub with different issues than the rest of the parish. St. Francisville is a unique small town with a popular historic district, thriving tourism industry and close-knit community.
“We have to balance the needs in the historic district with those in the Audubon Hills, Pecan Grove, Villa Rose and other residential areas," she said. "Our mayor/town council form of government has been very effective in serving the citizens and businesses and is best suited to serve their needs going forward. With that said, I believe we should work together as a town and parish whenever appropriate to achieve success for all in the parish.”
Williams, 54, an Independent, served for eight years on the Police Jury/Parish Council. She is a registered nurse and also manages real estate. She said economic development and continued smart growth are the biggest challenges along with maintaining the beauty and charm of the community.
“There is a strong need to maintain a delicate balance of promotion of new businesses while assuring the continued success of existing businesses and rural surroundings,” said Williams. “I would like to use my experience in working with state and federal agencies to strengthen our economy, improve our infrastructure, provide improved quality of life to residents, through promotion and management of our local assets and natural resources.”