St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith and Clerk of Court Melissa Henry were sworn into office in separate ceremonies Friday, each looking out at an audience full of uniformed employees who also had to take oaths of office.
The inaugural festivities marked the first turnover at the top in 20 years for the two parishwide offices.
All Sheriff’s Office employees with commissions had to be sworn in as well, a procedure that began at midnight when three teams were dispatched to administer the oath to the night shift, followed by another round at 5 a.m. and another at 7 a.m.
The 130 deputy clerks, who also had to be sworn in, did so en masse as their new boss administered the oath to them minutes after raising her own right hand as 22nd Judicial District Judge Allison Penzato swore her in.
In Mandeville and Madisonville, municipal officeholders also took their oaths of office.
Smith, who defeated longtime Sheriff Jack Strain last fall, appeared visibly moved by numerous standing ovations as his administration began in the auditorium of Church of the King in Mandeville.
U.S. Attorney Ken Polite, who gave the keynote address for Smith’s ceremony, quoted “founding father” George Mason, who said periodic rotation in office holders was essential to the preservation of a republican government.
“Today we’re seeing an example of that rotation,” Polite said, alluding to Smith’s unseating of a 20-year incumbent.
Polite called the office of sheriff unparalleled with its varied responsibilities for enforcing the law, collecting taxes and operating a jail. He told Smith that his colleagues and community have high expectations for him. “But I know, we all know, those of us assembled here, he will indeed meet and ultimately surpass those expectations,” he said.
Officeholders don’t own their positions and should know they aren’t the only person who can do the job, he said.
“My promise to you, Randy, is that if I ever sense that you’re getting a sense of entitlement about this role, that you are viewing the position or the people as serving you, as opposed to the reverse, I will pick up the phone,” Polite said.
But he added that he doesn’t expect to make that call.
Smith, who made brief remarks after showing a film of police officers in dangerous situations, said he wants deputies to think of themselves as public servants first and peace officers second.
“I demand professionalism and accountability from every deputy sheriff,” he said. “I will lead by example and treat everyone fairly and equitably. I expect 100 percent, but I will give 100 percent.”
St. Tammany’s new clerk succeeds Malise Prieto, who decided not to seek re-election last fall. Henry, who worked under Prieto, said she is proud to be the 22nd clerk for St. Tammany and one of only three in the past 40 years. The turnover isn’t limited to St. Tammany, she said, noting that 19 new clerks were taking office throughout the state Friday, the largest number ever.
The office faces funding challenges, Henry said, but she promised to continue its reputation for professionalism and courtesy while improving technology.
As Smith was taking his oath of office, Mandeville officials were gathered across town at the Paul Spitzfaden Community Center, where Mayor Donald Villere and the five members of the City Council were sworn in after their spring elections.
Three members of the council are new, and the group was urged by Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler to remember to encourage people to vote.
Villere, in his inaugural address, mentioned two looming challenges: the proposed 78-acre lakefront development known as Port Marigny and the need to hire a new police chief to replace the popular Rick Richard, who retired June 30.
And like all office holders in Mandeville, he vowed to protect the city’s status quo, especially safety, good infrastructure and the lakefront.
Staff writer Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this story.