Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts makes a cameo appearance early in Gary Rivlin’s new book “Katrina: After the Flood,” and the portrayal is not a flattering one.
Roberts, however, questions whether that portrayal is entirely accurate, given that the book incorrectly says he was a Gretna city councilman at the time Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“A simple Google search would’ve shown what my position was,” said Roberts, who’s been a member of the Parish Council since 2004 and has never sat on the Gretna City Council. “It’s a book (published) 10 years later — he had the time to verify the details.”
Rivlin describes Roberts as showing up at a Regional Transit Authority bus depot in Gretna where RTA employees, their family members and members of the New Orleans Police Department had gone Aug. 30 after the catastrophic levee breaches in New Orleans had flooded a facility where they were earlier.
The mostly black group hoped to flee the area on some buses the RTA had parked in LaPlace, but all Roberts cared about was who had told them to cross the Crescent City Connection from New Orleans to Gretna, according to the book.
Rivlin writes that Roberts approached Wilfred Eddington — an NOPD officer assigned to the transit unit — and loudly asked in a “high-pitched” voice, “Who in the hell ordered this? ... Who told you to bring these people over here under this bridge?”
Calling Roberts “a little gnat” and “a pain in the ass,” Eddington said he told the councilman to beat it. That remark prompted a Gretna police officer to raise the shotgun he was holding, which in turn caused the NOPD cop to reach for the revolver on his right hip, Eddington said.
Things didn’t escalate from there.
Roberts said Friday that he didn’t recall the particulars of the events at the bus depot that day. But he said things at the time were chaotic because people in New Orleans had been told there was plenty of water to drink and buses to take them out of town awaiting folks who could make the trek across the Crescent City Connection to Gretna, part of Roberts’ district.
Roberts, now 38, said nothing of the sort had been arranged at the time. Then, when people were stopped outside of Gretna and informed that no buses or water bottles were waiting for them, they accused Jefferson Parish officials of stealing the rides and supplies for themselves, Roberts said.
Tensions rose when Oakwood Mall in nearby Terrytown was looted and badly damaged in a fire that had been intentionally set.
“It was difficult to distinguish who was there for the right reasons and those who were not,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he and other officials ultimately did arrange to evacuate as many people as possible on parish buses. That number included people who had come to Gretna from New Orleans, he said.
Nonetheless, a group of RTA employees, their relatives and some friends were part of a federal lawsuit accusing Gretna and Jefferson Parish law enforcement agencies of popping off warning shots and using excessive force to bar people from crossing the bridge to flee the flooding on the other side of the river. A judge ultimately dismissed the case.
Roberts is running for re-election this fall. He will be challenged by Louis Congemi, the former Kenner mayor and Jefferson Parish councilman.
St. Tammany sheriff candidates to debate
Candidates for St. Tammany Parish sheriff have been invited to the first scheduled debate of the fall election season, to be hosted Sept. 14 by the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany.
The sheriff’s race is shaping up as one of the most hotly contested on the Oct. 24 ballot, with four announced candidates: incumbent Jack Strain, Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith, retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Jennifer Werther and retired U.S. Customs Officer Scott Illing.
Concerned Citizens President Rick Franzo said a panel will ask questions but there also will be an opportunity for candidate-to-candidate interaction.
“It is vital that voters have the opportunity to make an informed choice between the different paths envisioned for the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office,’’ he said.
The debate will be held at the John Davis Center in Lacombe beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Concerned Citizens held similar forums in past elections, including the district attorney’s race last fall and the coroner’s race in the spring.
Compiled by staff writers Ramon Antonio Vargas and Sara Pagones