Despite a recent wave of anti-incumbent sentiment on the north shore, most of the faces will be familiar when the St. Tammany Parish Council is sworn in next month. Every council member who sought re-election won another term, and only two were forced into runoffs.
But the 15-member body will have a trio of new members: District 4 Councilman Mike Lorino, District 5 Councilman Rykert Toledano and District 13 Councilwoman Michele Blanchard. All three are replacing veterans who chose not to run again.
Actually, one of the three has had a head start on her council career. Blanchard began serving on the council in July when Richard Artigue resigned to take a job with the city of Slidell. She was appointed to fill the remainder of his term and ran for the seat this fall, defeating Dan Crowley.
For Blanchard, the start of a full term will mean a continuation of work she’s been doing for months. During recent downpours, for example, she was out surveying drainage problems in French Branch subdivision.
The other two newcomers already have jumped into council mode, too.
Lorino — whose predecessor, Reid Falconer, ran for the state Legislature rather than for another term on the Parish Council — said he’s been to several homeowners meetings.
Toledano, who won the District 5 seat left open by Marty Gould’s decision not to run, has been a regular presence at council meetings and also participated in a recent Urban Land Institute survey of the parish. The panel of experts focused on a study area in south-central St. Tammany that Toledano said is mainly within his council district.
Blanchard, a lawyer, has worked for state legislatures in Tennessee and Louisiana. She said she came to the Parish Council already knowing how legislative bodies work.
The other two newcomers also have a familiarity with government. Lorino serves on the Causeway Commission and has been its chairman. He will have to give up his seat on that body when he is sworn in.
His main job, as president of the Associated Branch Pilots of the Port of New Orleans, has also made him familiar with the state legislative process, he said. He will be retiring from that post in the middle of next year.
Toledano, who has been a lawyer for 40 years, has served as city attorney for Covington and has appeared before the Parish Council many times.
The new council members say they have a good grip on the issues as well, thanks in part to hours on the campaign trail.
While no one else qualified to run in District 4, Lorino said he had expected an opponent and campaigned accordingly. He views traffic as the No. 1 issue in the parish, particularly on La. 22 and at the bridge in Madisonville.
He’s been struck by the diversity of the parish and said that his biggest challenge will be understanding the needs of St. Tammany as a whole.
Blanchard said she thinks water management is the most critical issue facing the parish. The rest of the state might not recognize it, she said, but St. Tammany is a coastal parish, and District 13 has the largest coastal area in the parish. Many subdivisions there were built on former swamps, she said, and there are lots of drainage issues.
Her goal is to see major drainage improvements for French Branch and Cross Gates within the next two years.
Toledano said he is doing research and considering some initiatives — including ways to better stay in touch with constituents — but isn’t ready to unveil them yet.
After extensive door-to-door campaigning, Toledano said, he believes residents are interested not only in their own neighborhoods but in St. Tammany Parish as a whole.
The parish’s elected officials and government employees also genuinely care about making St. Tammany a better place, he said, and he hopes to see a greater acknowledgement of that and a more respectful approach to disagreement.
Blanchard said the hardest part of the job is when people disagree or when the needs of the individual conflict with the overall good. But as a lawyer, she said, she’s trained to be a problem-solver.
Toledano also cited his experience as a mediator.
They add two attorneys to a body that didn’t have any for most of the last term.
Toledano said some people have told him that government needs fewer lawyers. “I told them, ‘I’m going to apply for the job anyway,’ ” he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.