Drainage and flood recovery are top priorities for candidates trying to claim an open seat on the Denham Springs City Council.
Six people have put their names in for a one-year, at-large position that had been held by Chris Davis. He left for a job in Mississippi in March, citing difficulty rebuilding after the flood.
DENHAM SPRINGS — Citing the difficulty of rebuilding after the August flood, City Councilman…
None of the candidates have held public office before, but three of them ran three years ago for the same council seat. The candidates will appear on the Oct. 14 ballot. If no one wins a majority, there will be a runoff at the Nov. 18 election.
In interviews with the Advocate, all of the candidates said that the biggest problems facing Denham Springs now are connected to the August 2016 flood, which inundated 77 percent of the buildings in Denham Springs.
They spoke of developing plans to improve drainage and reduce flash flooding and rebuilding confidence such that homeowners and businesses will come back and reinvigorate the approximately 10,000-person city.
Restaurant owner Amber Dugas said she decided to run after her home — and many of her customers' homes and businesses — flooded last year.
"I’m worried about the vitality of our city," Dugas said. "You have that bubble after the disaster of rebuilding and stuff, then people run out of money and can’t do it anymore. It’s a scary situation when you’re watching it every day with your customers. They’re trying to decide if they’ll come back, or if they can. I just don’t want to watch our city be put back after so much growth."
If elected, Dugas said she would push to get federal grant money to residents more quickly and will advocate for a Boys and Girls Club to offer support for families recovering from the floods.
Scott Kimble believes his business experience and inexperience in politics sets him up well for advocating for new ideas and people in local government.
"As a small city with small-city politics, we need to be a little more progressive, hire some new blood from time to time," he said.
Kimble said he would also like to improve transparency by live-streaming the council meetings on Facebook, as well as hiring an additional building inspector to oversee rebuilding since the flood.
Ray Riley wants to get a full study of the drainage system within the city of Denham Springs if he is elected. He also suggested improving coordination between the city and the schools to keep kids who drop out of school from getting into crime.
The only black candidate and only Democrat running, Riley said he would bring diversity to the council, which, outside of Arthur Perkins, who is serving in the interim role, only has white members.
"Every community needs to be represented, and I will bring a voice for the minority community. But not only the minority community, for all the citizens of Denham Springs," he said.
For Brian Edward Ross, the best way to improve the city since the floods would be by growing sales tax revenue — and using that money to invest in fixing the drainage infrastructure. As a way to do that, he proposed providing incentives for businesses along Florida Boulevard if he is elected.
"The biggest issue is revenue, because you need that for everything else," he said.
Denham Springs native Laura Schmitt Smith said her focus in office would be on developing a long-term drainage maintenance plan to bring consistent and reliable cleaning and expansion of drainage canals and ditches to residents. She hopes that will improve confidence for businesses and families considering Denham Springs.
If elected, a second focus for the school counselor would be to revitalize Florida Boulevard, which she called an "eyesore," by cleaning up the infrastructure and creating codes for the buildings, such that new development would have a more uniform appearance.
Also running for the council is Keith Stark, who said he's thinking hard about how Denham Springs might change as properties change hands since the flood.
He said he wants the council to consider revising regulations so that they're conducive to bringing back businesses and wants to see the council find a way to raise pay for Denham Springs police officers, in the hopes of retaining them longer.
"We don't want to be the training grounds and then have to start from scratch again. We want to keep our trained officers," he said.
The election will take place on Oct. 14. Early voting runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7.