Among all the Parish Council races in St. Tammany this year, none captures the north shore’s recent political turmoil better than that in District 7, a broad area in the center of the parish that includes areas just east of Mandeville and unincorporated Lacombe.
Lacombe is the place that gave birth to the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, and over the past four years, the area has been home to some of the parish’s most intense controversies: a proposed waste transfer station, a recreation district dust-up and, most recently, the fight over whether a fracking well will be drilled in the district.
In 2011, five candidates vied for the open seat. This year’s race also has five candidates — two Democrats and three Republicans — three of whom qualified last time.
One of those is the man who won in 2011: Republican Jake Groby, a CCST-backed hopeful who has not been afraid to cross swords with his colleagues or Parish President Pat Brister.
“I understand Mrs. Brister and I don’t get along,” Groby said.
Groby said the animus from Brister and some of his fellow council members is a sign that he’s doing his job well.
Groby has been one of the council members leading the charge against the planned fracking well in the northwestern part of the district.
On this issue, he and his challengers — Democrats Gerrin Narcisse and Carlo Hernandez, and Republicans Jacki Schneider and Joe Savarese — are in accord. At a recent forum, all vowed to continue the parish’s lawsuit against the oil company involved and the state to try to halt the project.
Likewise, they all sought to display their support for term limits and a proposal for an inspector general in St. Tammany Parish, both issues championed by Concerned Citizens.
But the challengers diverge when it comes to their plans if elected.
Narcisse, a teacher and political newcomer, pointed to drainage as the main issue. Some district zoning rules also may need to be changed to create more commercial development and broaden the tax base, he said.
Savarese, a business owner who qualified but then withdrew in 2011, said the district needs a council member who will “listen to the people.” Like Narcisse, he pointed to drainage as a problem and asked why the Lacombe area can’t get amenities like an improved library, similar to what he sees in other parts of the parish.
For Hernandez, a retired government worker who ran in 2003, 2007 and 2011, and who has attended every council meeting for the past 14 years, the issues are both drainage and roads. “There’s lots of activity, lots of areas available for development, but not necessarily the infrastructure that’s needed,” he said.
Schneider, a 63-year-old retired teacher, said she feels that Groby had been unresponsive to the needs of the whole district. “We can’t get him to listen to anything,” she said.
If elected, Schneider said, she would work to improve transparency by keeping all district residents informed about parish issues. She added that she would like to reorganize Recreation District No. 4, which has been the focus of some controversy, so it could offer more programming.