GONZALES — With two weeks to go before the election to replace recalled Gonzales City Councilman Timothy Vessel, the three candidates found themselves facing questions about hypothetical situations — a specter of the recent troubles on the council — at a candidates’ forum Monday night.
At the forum, hosted by the local Ascension Parish Voters League, candidates Derrick Coco, a Democrat; Willie Robinson, no party affiliation; and Harold Stewart, a Democrat, each spoke briefly before questions were taken from a surprisingly small crowd, considering the turmoil on the city council that led to the open seat.
Resident Tyrone Smith posed the first question.
“Here’s a scenario: A vendor’s coming to town, proposing to do something. Fifty-one percent of the population in this city does not want it,” Smith said.
He continued: Four of the five-member City Council were for the project and “now, it’s your turn to vote.”
“How would you vote?” Smith wanted to know.
Some of the most controversial issues on the City Council over the past year that led to the recall effort against Vessel, who was recalled in December, and Councilman Gary Lacombe, who resigned before that recall election, were about zoning.
Coco, an operator at the Rain CII plant in St. James Parish, and Robinson, a broker and owner of Ascension Realty of Louisiana in Gonzales, wanted more details.
“It’s hard to answer. I don’t know what the vendor is, who they are and what they do,” Coco said.
“That’s a tough question for anyone, so you’ve got to dig deeper,” Robinson said. “Each issue will have to be dealt with individually or, if not, (the council) will probably head back to recall.”
Addressing the hypothetical situation, Stewart said, “I would probably vote for the 51 percent (of the public against the project). I’m here for the people, not the company.”
Another question, from Alsie Dunbar, a board member of the Ascension Minority Business Association, was grounded in reality.
She asked the candidates about a mixed-use development called Conway Plantation that’s coming to a site of more than 300 acres on La. 44 and wanted to know the candidates’ views on transportation needs on the heavily traveled road, a situation that’s “going to be exacerbated” with the new development.
“What proposal can you bring to the table?” she asked.
Stewart said he had learned that the city and the state are already discussing the issue, with another meeting scheduled later this month, so some answers may be forthcoming.
Robinson said, “A lot of people have on their (election) platforms ‘roads, roads, roads, traffic, traffic, traffic.’ ”
“The truth is, we’re so far behind” that the traffic problems in the city will take “more than one of us being elected,” Robinson said.
“You have to talk to legislators.”
“You’ve got to have someone who will go above and beyond, to speak to who needs to be spoken to” about the issue, Robinson said.
Coco said that, in the case of the new Conway Plantation development, “We have to make sure we come together to prepare ourselves for the property and the development” of it.
One resident’s comment, not question, brought applause from the audience.
“Candidates, I’m saying to you, the cotton-picking time to do what’s right is always right now,” said Charley Stephens.
“We don’t want the same old soup, just reheated,” Stephens said.
The election for the Gonzales City Council, Division C, will be held on March 28.
Neal Bourque is the new councilman for the Division E seat. He was unopposed for the seat left vacant when Lacombe resigned.
Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.