Two political newcomers are challenging incumbent Gregory Carroll for the District 1 seat on the Kenner City Council in this year's municipal election, with both saying Kenner's residents need better communication from the city's elected officials.
Jacqueline Brown-Cockerham and David Weathersby say they hope to give residents more of a voice in local government, pointing in particular to decisions made about the construction of a new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
The district in southern and southwest Kenner includes the airport.
Carroll, who is director of inmate programs for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, counters by pointing to his long experience in government and his even longer history in south Kenner. The 56-year-old is the fifth generation of his family to grow up there.
The election is March 24. A runoff, if needed, would be April 28.
The race is not expected to be an expensive one. Carroll has spent less than $4,500. Brown-Cockerham has raised and spent less than $1,500, her campaign finance report shows. Weathersby has not filed a finance report.
Brown-Cockerham said that if elected, she would focus on a variety of quality-of-life issues but her first priority would be to reach out to the residents of south Kenner.
"There's a lack of communication with constituents," she said. "We don't need to be told at the ninth or 11th hour what is going to happen in the district."
Brown-Cockerham, a counselor and retired teacher, said District 1 residents who bear the brunt of the airport expansion in terms of increased noise and traffic should be the beneficiaries of its expected economic boost.
"We need to be a part of this wealth equity," she said. Drainage improvements are also needed, she said.
South Kenner could also use quality-of-life upgrades like a library and perhaps a public art installation, similar to what the city has along Power Boulevard, she said.
Weathersby echoed many of the same sentiments, especially concerning the airport expansion.
"We have to deal with traffic," he said. "Who's doing to pay for the increase in traffic that's going to affect businesses and citizens in District 1?"
City officials need to communicate better with residents about plans for the area, he said.
Weathersby said the city also needs to do a better job of keeping District 1 residents in the loop with information about other projects and issues.
That would help "bring some trust back to the aspect of city government. The citizens don't really trust the council or the administration," he said.
Carroll, a two-term incumbent, said his long history of involvement with the community shows his commitment to keeping residents informed.
"I have worked within the community," he said, noting that he worked as an academic tutor and coach at Buddy Lawson Playground and served for a time as the city's assistant recreation director.
But it's his other work experience that really sets him apart from his challengers, he said.
"I have worked in the city, parish, federal and state governments," he said, singling out his experience as a financial analyst and his work with hurricane recovery. "I have the ability to work with diverse groups and work at a management level."
Issues like the airport require experience, he said, and the district needs someone "who can hit the ground running March 25."
Chief among his priorities is working to get still-undeveloped Rivertown and Laketown properties back into commerce, he said. The city also needs to improve the drainage and sewer infrastructure in the district, he said.
Weathersby and Brown-Cockerham are trying to use Carroll's experience against him, specifically his attempt to run for a third consecutive term. Kenner has a two-term limit for officeholders, though candidates can run for a third term if they can get a petition signed by 30 percent of the district's voters.
Carroll submitted his petition over the summer, and it was certified in August. A later challenge to the validity of some of the signatures was rejected.
But Weathersby said that years ago, Carroll had claimed the term-limits law was violated when his predecessor, Marc Johnson, submitted a petition to run for his third term. "Now he's had a change of heart," Weathersby said.
Carroll denied that his position has changed. "My position was that three terms should be the limit," he said. "I would make it a simple three terms."