Maybe it takes a village to raise a child, but according to Louisiana law, it takes 1,001 inhabitants to raise a town — and Madisonville falls considerably short, with an estimated population of just over 800.
Now, the state legislative auditor is calling out the so-called town of Madisonville, for, well ... posing as something it's not.
A report issued this week included a laundry list of recommendations for the town's government, from refining policies and procedures to posting a hotline notice.
But then it dropped a bombshell: "Because Madisonville had only 748 residents as of the 2010 federal census, it appears that it should be classified as a 'village' under its charter."
Under the Lawrason Act, which governs Louisiana municipalities that don't have a home rule charter, "towns" must have at least 1,001 residents. Anything less is a village.
"I don't think we've been at 1,000 for 40 or 50 years," said Mayor Jean Pelloat, hearkening back to the town's heyday as a shipbuilding center during the world wars. At one time, it boasted three shipyards and had housing for employees.
But Madisonville has exceeded 1,000 residents in only two U.S. Census reports: 1910, when the town numbered 1,028, and 1920, when there were 1,103 residents.
Since then, the town, which was founded in 1817 and incorporated in 1852, has mostly seen its numbers dwindle — to a low of 659 in 1990. In very recent years, the number has been creeping up slowly, to a current estimate of 831.
At the same time, there's been a growth boom just outside Madisonville's town limits, so much so that late last year, the St. Tammany Parish Council imposed a six-month moratorium on new subdivisions in the area.
Pelloat said Madisonville has experienced some growth and he believes it won't be long before it achieves the population level needed to be a town.
Brad Haddox, who serves on the Town Council, also noted that there are some new houses going up. It would be "silly to change (to a village) and then revert back," he said.
But Madisonville is unlikely to hit 1,001 without annexation, he said.
"We look (at the idea of annexation) all the time, but we're not growing the town for the sake of growing," Haddox said.
Aside from what's spelled out in state law, Madisonville's own charter says it must notify the governor if its population has "increased or diminished so as to take or place this Town out of the class to which theretofore it hath belonged."
The auditor pointed out the requirement, and Pelloat said the town sent a letter on Feb. 1 notifying Gov. John Bel Edwards of Madisonville's current population. The Governor's Office requested additional information, including a copy of the town's charter, and Pelloat said Madisonville officials are waiting to hear back.
Haddox called the failure to notify the governor an innocent oversight, and it's easy to see how that could happen. The town (or village) charter contains exhaustive details about its governmental responsibilities.
For example, it includes a section on regulating, suppressing and taxing "corn doctors, pet bear exhibitors, exhibitions for pay, fortune tellers ... ten pin alleys (without regard to the number of pins used), skating rinks, roller coasters and other like things."
There's also a stern paragraph concerning "tippling shops ... houses of prostitution, disreputable houses ... and all kind of indecency and other disorderly practices."
But there's more at stake for 21st-century Madisonville than just a name. Under state law, towns are governed by five-member boards of aldermen. Villages have three-member boards.
"That's the only thing that would change that I know of," Pelloat said. The town's charter also spells out that it should have a five-member board, which means some language in that document might have to be changed.
And with municipal elections coming up next year, the size of the board is an issue.
"I kind of like five people," Haddox said. "That's five different considerations. ... With more varied people, you have more varied viewpoints."
Amy Marshall, who owns Berry Blossom Flowers on the town's main drag, said she thinks a five-member board offers more diversity.
"For a board to be effective, it needs to have the community's best interest in mind and to be representative of the community," she said, something that might be harder to attain with only three members.
But Marshall, who lived in Madisonville for 19 years and still has her business there, said a label doesn't define a community.
"We are such a small town," said Stephen Marcus, president of the Madisonville Chamber of Commerce. "We're in a pretty small area; we kind of call ourselves a tiny little village ... there's no stigma."
Mary Sheppard, who moved to Madisonville a couple of years ago, said she loves small towns. She already refers to Madisonville sometimes as a village, telling customers of Acadian Home Fashions, where she works, that the shop is located right in the center of the village.
"The 'village of Madisonville,' that's even more quaint," she said.
Sarah Dunn paused outside the Piggly Wiggly grocery to ponder whether it mattered to her if Madisonville were to be a village rather than a town.
"I just hope nothing changes," she said. "Tiny is not necessarily bad."