With both of the Slidell City Council's at-large members term-limited, two new people will be representing the city as a whole on the council come July.
Slidell voters will be picking from among three familiar faces in the at-large field: current District G Councilman Bill Borchert, former District D Councilman Joe Fraught and current District A Councilman Glynn Pichon.
Each of the three is touting his experience in city government, which some voters see as especially important with at least four, and perhaps as many as six, new members joining the next council.
Economic growth, drainage and public safety are key issues that have developed in all the district council races, and the at-large race is no different.
The primary election will be March 24, with a runoff April 28, if needed. The two winners will earn four-year terms.
Borchert, 53, has been elected three times as the District G councilman, including once to complete an unfinished term. He said the move to an at-large seat is a “natural progression” for him and that the council needs a steady hand with so much turnover on the board ahead.
“The at-large representative can help determine which projects are the bigger priority,” he said.
Borchert, who was named the metro area’s Legislator of the Year in 2014 by the Alliance for Good Government, said Slidell’s top priority should be economic diversity.
“We’ve lived on sales taxes around here since 1985 when (North Shore Square shopping mall) went up,” he said. “With things like Amazon out there online, retail is taking a hit with businesses like Target and Toys R Us closing. … We have to find good high-tech jobs that pay a decent salary and employ local citizens.”
Borchert has an engineering degree, but he primarily manages property and businesses he owns around town.
“My background with engineering is extremely important when we’re dealing with $100 million in FEMA money coming into the city for drainage and we’re deciding how to spend it,” Borchert said. “I work with blueprints in my hand. But it’s not just talk. I’m invested in the city.”
Fraught was elected twice in District D, and even though it’s been nearly four years since he’s held public office, he said he feels at times that he never left.
“People call me all the time asking for help,” he said. “The first time I ran, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it. But I’m a salesman at heart. I like to talk with people, and I like serving the community.”
Fraught, 73, said Slidell is hamstrung by a deal city leaders made with the parish before he took office in 2006 that he contends hampers the city’s ability to annex property. Fraught said expanding Slidell’s borders would create more tax dollars for city coffers.
“The city is stuck on 27,000 people,” he said, referencing Slidell’s population. “It was 27,183 people in 2009, and it was 27,942 in 2016. ... That’s terribly slow growth, and meanwhile, all the parish does is grow bigger and bigger.”
Fraught, who has spent 36 years in the real estate industry, said the number of permits to build new houses in the city limits also is very low. “We don’t want to grow into a giant, but you have to have some growth,” he said.
He said the city should have a “rainy day fund” for times of emergency or economic crisis, and he supports further programs to strengthen public safety and drainage.
Pichon, 45, was eligible to run for another term in District A, which he has represented since 2014, but he said it was time to make a move to a citywide position.
“I’ve been all over the city the past 3½ years listening to people’s concerns,” he said. “There aren’t many homeowner groups I haven’t been to in that time. When I push that (voting) button in council, I’m thinking how it will affect everyone. … Having a citywide approach is nothing new to me. We’ve been doing it from the start.”
Pichon said he’s helped foster community building in his district and can do more of the same citywide. He touts his experience strengthening District A homeowners’ groups to give people an organized voice in local civic affairs.
Council members "are here to serve,” Pichon said. “But at the same time, we have to ask, ‘How can we do better?’ "
Pichon said diversifying the city’s revenue stream is key and that the city must work to ensure the South Slidell Levee Protection Rehabilitation Project is completed.
Increased public safety is a concern for Pichon, too, and he said he’s helped the community take steps in that direction. He said he partnered with the St. Tammany Parish School Board to bring an additional youth summer camp to Slidell and worked with the state Workforce Commission to start a job fair that focused on finding jobs for ex-offenders and disabled veterans.