New Slidell City Council members Glynn Pichon, Warren Crockett and Val Vanney started their first meeting last week with a quick tutorial from council administrator Tommy Reeves on how to cast their votes electronically. But it was an old-fashioned, paper-ballot vote for council officers that became the most instructive introduction to city politics.
Councilwoman Kim Harbison, who has been serving as vice president, submitted a letter asking to be re-elected to that position, and Councilman Landon Cusimano submitted a letter asking for a second term as president.
But when Councilman Sam Caruso nominated Harbison for vice president, she demurred, saying she wanted to nominate Councilman Bill Borchert instead. With no other nominations, he was elected unanimously.
Caruso then nominated Cusimano for president, but Borchert proposed another nominee for the top post: Harbison. She won the job by a 6-3 vote. Pichon, Cusimano and Caruso voted for Cusimano. Harbison, Borchert, Crockett, Vanney, Sam Abney and Jay Newcomb voted for Haribison.
Caruso and Cusimano both said the moves took them by surprise. Caruso said no one had told him that Harbison had changed her mind about which job she wanted. But Cusimano said that when Harbison nominated Borchert in her place for vice president, he knew something was up.
Harbison, who has served for 12 years on the council, said she and some other members had talked and decided to make the change.
“This is a brand-new council,” she said. “I think it’s a very different council than the last one, and I think that’s great.”
Tammany folks have fracking on the brain
The St. Tammany Parish Council didn’t have anything on its agenda Thursday night that dealt with an oil company’s efforts to drill a hydraulic fracturing well in the parish, but that didn’t stop anti-fracking forces from bringing up the issue.
A group of protesters, waving signs with sentiments like “Keep the frack out of my water,” lined the entrance to the parish government complex on Koop Drive ahead of the meeting. A rezoning appeal on the agenda also became a platform for fracking foes.
Terri Lynn Stevens, Kelly Kreminski and Deborah Burst had appealed the Zoning Commission’s decision to rezone 120 acres near the Washington Parish line from a suburban district to an industrial district, a move sought by property owners who want to revive the Lee Road Dirt Pit.
Stevens argued that the parish doesn’t need what she called another gravel pit. But her main concern was whether the zoning designation would allow oil and gas extraction at the site. Burst echoed that theme, calling the advent of fracking as big a threat as Hurricane Katrina. “I’m very concerned,” she said, urging council members to be careful or risk seeing St. Tammany turn into “our worst nightmare.”
Stevens said the property owners could reassure residents by putting in writing that they don’t plan to allow fracking.
But the Parish Council was visibly impatient with the fracking discussion. Chairman Reid Falconer told Burst that the issue was off-point, and Councilman Richard Tanner at one point told an anti-fracking audience member to put down a protest sign.
The Parish Council voted 12-0 to uphold the zoning change.
A couple of hats land in a couple of rings
West Bank attorney Frank Buck will run to fill the seat on the 24th Judicial District Court that will be vacated later this year by retiring Judge Ross LaDart.
The election will be held Nov. 4.
Buck, a registered independent who worked in the family towboat business for three years before law school, has practiced in various courts around the state.
Meanwhile, a familiar name in Plaquemines Parish is hoping to get back into public service: Benny Rousselle, the two-term former parish president, who has announced his candidacy for the District 5 seat on the Parish Council. The council has nine seats.
Rousselle was parish president from 1999 through 2006, a time that saw the parish flattened by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Before taking the parish’s top executive post, he served on the Parish Council and then as a state representative. He now works as a consultant with Professional Engineering and Environmental Consultants Inc.
Qualifying for the election is in August.
Compiled by staff writers Sara Pagones, Chad Calder and Gordon Russell