OPELOUSAS — St. Landry Parish must continue to develop regional partnerships with other parish governments in order to move economic and cultural development forward, Parish President Bill Fontenot said Monday during his swearing-in address.
Fontenot, who is beginning his second term after running unopposed in 2015, said although St. Landry possesses many geographic and cultural advantages, the parish’s ability to grow economically depends upon its associations with eight other parishes in the Acadiana area.
“If we don’t regionalize, then we don’t have economic growth. This is an era of regionalization, which means you can’t do it alone anymore as one or two parishes,” Fontenot told a large crowd assembled at the Delta Grand Theater in Opelousas.
“You need, as a parish, to be part of a regional structure and if you are, you will carry a voice. You can’t be St. Landry Parish, standing on an island.”
Fontenot said two decades ago, St. Landry was home to former state senators such as Frank Diesi, Armand Brinkhaus and state Rep. Charles Hudson, whose district boundaries were contained entirely within the parish.
Now those lines have changed, Fontenot said, and St. Landry is included in multi-parish election districts.
Fontenot said since the start of his first administration in 2011, the parish has joined regional planning and economic alliances with surrounding parishes in order to have more of an impact when it comes to asking for help from state and federal officials.
Fontenot’s address followed the swearing in of the 13 members of the St. Landry Parish Council.
Six of those sworn into office Monday are first-time council members.
The new council members scheduled to serve at their first meeting Jan. 20 are Nancy Carriere, Mildred Thierry, Harold Taylor, Kenneth Marks, Vivian Olivier and Coby Clavier.
James Genovese, a state judge with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals who spoke at the event, said the six new council members represented a “changing of the guard” in parish government.
“That’s almost 50 percent new blood. You have the chance to bring back the spirit of St. Landry that we can have again,” said Genovese, an Opelousas native.
Genovese said the parish is in a position to grow economically since residents from Lafayette Parish are moving into St. Landry due to lower real estate prices and land availability.
The parish, Genovese said, is also at the junction of two interstate highways. St. Landry also has a Wal-Mart distribution center and the Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino, which serve as sources of employment.
However, the parish also should make sure it has an educational system that complements the growth, he said.
Genovese said parish government should work with the St. Landry school district to make sure that educational opportunities are available for families moving into the parish. “The first thing people coming to this parish want to know is, ‘Where am I going to send my child to school,’ ” Genovese said.
Marks said the Parish Council is in a position to make a difference in the growth of the parish, but trust and cooperation among council members is imperative.
“I would like to see (the council) minimize the flow of negativity and minimize the frustration level that has sometimes existed,” Marks said. “We need to make sure that what we do is all about progress.”