PLAQUEMINE — Concerns over the economics of building a new medical facility in the Plaquemine area and whether working-class residents have sufficient access to parish facilities are among leading issues in the race for Iberville Parish president.
Incumbent Parish President Mitch Ourso, 58, a Democrat, who remains Iberville’s first and only parish president, said he needs just one more term in office to realize his top priority: to build a new medical facility for parish residents.
Ourso is facing challengers O’Neal “Elmo” Bosley, 58, No Party; and Parish Councilman Eugene “Gene” Stevens Jr., a Democrat.
Bosley has jabbed at Ourso for not seeking community input before making decisions, while Stevens, formerly one of Ourso’s close political allies, has taken to criticizing Ourso in recent weeks over the parish president’s plan to partner with Ochsner Health System to build a small, clinic-like facility in the parish.
Ourso largely has stayed positive on issues during his campaign, asserting that his accomplishments in office speak for themselves.
Ourso originally was elected to a two-year term in 1997, when the parish moved away from its police jury system of government to the current system with a parish council and parish president. After his shortened first term, Ourso won re-election in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Ourso, 58, a Plaquemine High School graduate, said Iberville voters can look back over his 14 years in office to see the type of changes he has spearheaded for the betterment of the parish.
“When we did our master plan, the people said Iberville doesn’t have a gateway, we have very few miles of interstate with an exit.”
The parish built the $2 million Visitors Center in Grosse Tete in response, he said. Two thousand people visited the facility in August alone, he said.
“Just think how many of those people spent money in our parish or stopped there and got an idea to visit our other attractions,” Ourso said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Ourso said he also took the lead in building the parish’s award-winning Veterans Memorial, revamping the parish’s Council on Aging program and overseeing expansion of Enterprise Boulevard for a planned economic development corridor.
“In my administration, I’ve been business-friendly and pro-industry. I’ve been able to attract billions of dollars of investment here and that has produced jobs for our people,” he said.
Ourso said he is currently working on opening a new medical facility in the Plaquemine area, the first medical facility in the area since River West Medical Center closed after Hurricane Gustav struck in 2008.
“I’m going to finish the job I started,” Ourso said. “If I can bring in billions of dollars from industry to this parish, I can make sure people will have a place to go for their medical needs.”
Bosley, a tax preparer, notary public and bail bondsman, said that, if elected, he would do a better job of bringing equality to the parish.
The truck-driving vocational school graduate declared that he is not a member of any political party and would make decisions based on the best possible outcomes for parish residents.
Politics, he said, plays too big a role in how decisions are made in the parish.
“People want fairness. That’s what I bring to this parish president’s race,” Bosley said. “Everybody will have the same opportunities if I’m elected.”
The parish’s biggest problem, Bosley said, is the lack of community input when major decisions are being made.
The opening of the Alligator Bayou floodgate in March 2009, in response to some landowners who complained the closed gate kept too much water on their properties, is one example, Bosley said.
“The parish president needs to go to the people in those situations before taking action,” Bosley said.
“You always have to keep the people in mind.”
Bosley said he would work toward making parks, the parish multi-use center and the civic center more accessible to working-class residents who now have to pay several hundred dollars or cut through “red tape” to use those facilities.
Bosley said he would not choose the interests of large industrial plants over what is important to the people of the parish.
“I realize the importance of the plants, but I’m not so tied up with them. We need to consider how the plants affect our environment,” he said. “I’m not afraid to stand up to the plants.”
Stevens, the third candidate, refused to be interviewed for this story.
Stevens, formerly the Parish Council chairman, resigned his chairmanship in April 2010, stepping aside for Councilman Matt Jewell.
Stevens said he gave up the council chairmanship reluctantly, but didn’t want to make waves as other unnamed council members were considering reorganizing the council.
More recently, Stevens has clashed with Ourso at Parish Council meetings by saying that the parish would be better served trying to reopen River West Medical Center rather than building a new, smaller facility.
Ourso has disagreed with Stevens’ position, arguing that River West’s owners twice refused to sell the property at its appraised value.
Under state law, the parish cannot purchase the property for more than the appraised value, Ourso has said.
Early voting for the Oct. 22 primary election runs through Oct. 15. There will be no early voting on Sunday.