The five-member Zachary City Council will get an injection of new blood this fall as two political novices compete for the one open seat on the fall ballot.
Incumbent John Coghlan also picked up a challenger as he runs for this third term representing the council’s District 3, with business owner Laura O’Brien striving to replace him. Benjamin Cavin and Sharon McKnight, both active in Zachary community organizations, each hope to win District 4’s open seat.
The four candidates share similar reasons for running. They all profess their love for Zachary and note that the city is going through a growth period. As people flock to Zachary and business booms, the prospective City Council members say they want to keep incoming larger companies from stifling smaller, local businesses.
Incumbent councilmen Francis Nezianya, Brandon Noel and Tommy Womack were re-elected without opposition.
Incumbent Councilman John Coghlan said he realized why he loved Zachary when his daughter got into a car wreck.
“By the time I got there, four moms had been there checking on her,” Coghlan said. “That’s the kind of town we have.”
He said he is excited to see the city grow, but shopping local and taking care of local business remain his priority. Coghlan is an operations supervisor at ExxonMobil, and he sits on the Americana Economic Development Committee, which oversees an upscale real estate development in Zachary. Coghlan is also part of Baton Rouge’s Republican Executive Committee.
Laura O’Brien, who is challenging Coghlan, hopes to become a female voice on the male-dominated board. She is a Zachary business owner and said the council’s decisions about business directly affect her.
Large, corporate stores swooping into Zachary are a double-edged sword, she said.
“We need bigger businesses to sustain revenue, but will it compromise quality of life for the people living here?” she said. “We still like to keep that small community feel, very quaint.”
O’Brien has owned Fitness Design for Women for 11 years. She has a master’s degree from Louisiana Tech University, and she runs the nonprofit LIFE program, Living In Fitness Every day, which encourages people to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Benjamin Cavin and Sharon McKnight are contending for the up-for-grabs District 4 City Council seat, which was opened up when eight-term councilman Dan Wallis announced his retirement this summer. McKnight said her love of service sets her apart, while Cavin believes his experience best qualifies him.
“Our local councilman was retiring after many years and I was concerned about who was going to represent me and our other constituents,” Cavin said. “I could sit on the sidelines and complain, or I could get involved.”
Cavin, a banker, sits on the board of Zachary’s Chamber of Commerce. As a lender, he said he often works with budgets, as well as planning and zoning issues, all areas that the City Council oversee.
He has a master’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and will soon graduate from LSU’s Graduate School of Banking. Cavin is the founder of the Leadership North Alumni Association, which focuses on building workforce development.
McKnight said she is well-known in the community because she is constantly volunteering, whether it is going to the store for the elderly or organizing Thanksgiving lunches at First Baptist Church.
She’s so active that she regularly fields phone calls from her grown-up children asking when she’s going to slow down.
Her answer is always the same: “If you say that you need help or you don’t need help, I’m going to be there for you.”
In addition to spurring the growth of businesses and jobs, McKnight said she’s concerned about adding more lighting to the streets.
McKnight is the founder of the nonprofit Dr. Martin Luther King organization, which she started as Zachary Youth on the Move when she was 18 years old.
She has spent 15 years working at Southern University, where she is an area coordinator, though she considers her volunteer work her true job.