State Rep. Jeff Arnold plans to end his tenure in the Legislature this year by pushing a bill that would have Algiers and West Jefferson secede from Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
Early indications, however, are that the West Bank lawmaker may have difficulty finding many people who want to go along with the idea.
Arnold, a term-limited Democrat who has represented Algiers for almost a dozen years, envisions a 65th parish that would stretch from Algiers to Grand Isle, powered by an offshore and marine services-based economy and a population large enough to qualify it as one of the top six parishes in the state.
According to the state constitution, the Legislature can create a new parish or change a parish’s boundaries if the move is approved by two-thirds of the voters in each affected parish.
“We’ve always been the stepchild of the East Bank,” Arnold said Thursday from Washington, D.C. “That’s always been the mentality of New Orleans, that it (Algiers) is not the East Bank.”
He said he has not discussed the idea with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu or Jefferson Parish President John Young, though Landrieu’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon opposing the idea.
“Historically, economically and culturally, Algiers is a very important part of the New Orleans community, so passing this legislation would be unwise,” it said.
Arnold said he thinks combining Algiers with West Jefferson makes sense for several reasons: It has more in common with communities like Gretna, Westwego, Terrytown and Marrero than it does with the city’s East Bank, and a new parish would have the population, developable land and economic base to more than stand on its own.
He said a name for the parish “is open to discussion” but suggested “West Jefferson” might be a worthy candidate.
Judging from the initial response to the idea from officials of Algiers’ West Bank neighbors, naming rights may not be enough.
State Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, said Arnold has discussed the idea with him but the two don’t see eye to eye.
“I just don’t think that would be in the best interest of Jefferson Parish,” he said. “It may be in the interest of Algiers … but we’ve been very successful working together in Jefferson Parish, and I’d hate to split our parish up.”
Young’s office said he would have no comment on the matter at this time.
Jefferson Parish’s West Bank at-large councilman, Chris Roberts, said he doesn’t know enough about the idea to discuss it.
Arnold said he has spoken with some fellow legislators and local West Bank officials who found the idea intriguing, but he would not name any names.
Todd Murphy, president of the Jefferson Chamber, said he’d be shocked to find the proposal seriously considered in Jefferson.
“I’m flattered that Algiers wants to join Jefferson Parish,” he said. “And certainly from an insurance, taxes, police (protection), resources and improved school system standpoint, I get all the reasons they’d want to. But I wouldn’t want to divide our parish.”
Murphy said he’d have no problem with Algiers becoming part of Jefferson Parish, but “there’s not a conversation about dividing our parish.”
Arnold said he would not seek any of the offices created by a new parish in its first slate of elections, though he didn’t rule out doing so down the line.
“I’m not doing this to give Jeff Arnold a job,” he said. “I’m doing this to create a more accountable government, one that responds to its constituents at a local level.”
Arnold cited the push for crime prevention districts in Algiers as a perfect example of the community needing to come up with its own version of basic services that the city’s government is not providing.
He said that even if the measure fails to gain traction, he expects it will put a spotlight on a chronic lack of attention and resources the West Bank gets from a New Orleans power structure that favors the East Bank. It might even result in a burst of attention and resources toward the West Bank, however short-lived.
That’s what Arnold said happened in 2003 when he introduced a bill that would have made Algiers its own city. He said he backed off at the request of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and that Algiers did in fact see an increase in funding and resources in the years before Hurricane Katrina.
Arnold said he expects to meet with considerable resistance, noting people tend to line up on such issues “based on how much money they lose if we do this.” He said it may end up that a new parish isn’t the answer, but “at the end of the day, I think it’s a good discussion to be had.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.