With the Livingston Parish Council election date drawing near and 13 candidates vying for five contested seats, almost every contender aims to focus on the parish’s most pressing issue: drainage.
Following the devastation of the August 2016 flood and a steady increase in construction, particularly on the parish’s more commercial west end, residents are increasingly concerned about what’s being done to clear culverts, divert flood waters and avoid another potentially disastrous deluge on their homes and land.
“(The biggest issue) is the drainage,” said District 6 candidate Steve McDaniel, a Republican. “I flooded in ’16 and I know some of the concerns. It’s the ditches, stopped-up culverts, and pushing for the Amite River to be dredged.”
District 1 incumbent Republican Jeff Ard referred to drainage as a critical issue and the parish’s biggest priority.
“Most of the parish, probably about two-thirds, is unfunded drainage districts so it makes it to where you’ve got to fight and plead to get the eastside done,” he said. “If we could come up with a way to fund parishwide drainage, without raining people’s taxes, that would help. Maybe it’s done by reappropriating the taxes we’re getting now.”
Five districts — 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8 — have drawn candidates for the Oct. 12 ballot. Incumbents are running for their same positions in three of those races. Councilmen Jeff Averett and Tab Lobell did not file for reelection.
Four councilmen, Shane Mack, Tracy Girlinghouse, John Wascom and R.C. “Bubba” Harris, all Republicans, were re-elected without opposition.
The ballot will look strongly Republican, with only two candidates — Shannon Sloan for District 3 and Muriel Laws for District 6 — running outside of the GOP. Sloan is running as a Libertarian and Laws as a Democrat. They are the only two females running for Parish Council.
Laws, who is retired from policy work in the Environmental Protection Agency, Veterans Affairs and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., is also pushing for drainage after seeing her own home impacted worse with each heavy rainfall.
“When I knock on doors, everybody has something to say, but the most important thing I’ve heard is the drainage and zoning,” she said. “On my street in 2016 the water came to mailbox, and two months ago in that heavy rain the entire street disappeared. It’s gotten worse and what I don’t understand is why isn’t it a priority in the budget?”
Mack, the unopposed councilman from District 9, faced a brick wall at the council’s Aug. 12 meeting when he proposed redistributing library tax monies and road maintenance funds to a drainage solution. Almost all councilmen, except for the also unopposed Wascom, voted to rescind the proposal and bar it from being heard at a future meeting.
Many residents showed up to express their concern with or support for the proposal but weren’t able to voice those opinions at the meeting due to the nature of Mack’s introduced item. On social media, the reception was split between support and opposition.
Funding parishwide drainage has become a tense issue within the council as the smaller drainage districts in the parish don’t uniformly fund their own workings. Many are unfunded after residents voted against taxing themselves to fund their drainage district, particularly on the east side of the parish that has also long shied away from implementing parishwide zoning.
Funding a drainage study was included in a 2013 Master Plan for the parish that was never effectively implemented, but is being revisited by a council-appointed Master Plan Committee that meets monthly.
Within the council candidate lineup, few have proposed detailed ideas about how to address the funding of drainage solutions going forward, despite pointing to it as a top concern.
As the undeniable forerunner for the parish's biggest hurdle, whichever candidates get a seat at the table will need to find a way to move forward with funding drainage.
Early voting for the Oct. 12 election is Sept. 28 to Oct. 5, excluding Sept. 29, a Sunday. Runoff elections, if needed, will be held on Nov. 16.