Pearl River Mayor David McQueen said he touted his ability to get along with anyone when he ran successfully for the job in 2014.
McQueen said that if he carries any disappointment from his recently completed first term as mayor, it’s that he and the Pearl River Board of Aldermen didn’t see eye-to-eye on a number of things over the past four years. There were long and sometimes testy discussions on a host of issues, including utility rates, the town’s police chief and even a festival McQueen supported.
Still, this past October, McQueen won 59 percent of votes to defeat former alderwoman Lora Cutrer in the mayoral race. He said he aims to have a better working relationship with the group of aldermen who also began their terms on Jan. 1.
“ We just never could get on the same wavelength," he said of the last council. “This group, I know them all; every one of them. I think ... they want to correct our problems and work with me ... They’re smart people. They’ll catch on quick.”
Two of five aldermen (Angel Galloway and Joe Lee) are new to the board, while incumbents David McGregor, Bridget Bennett and Kat Walsh return.
McQueen knows what it’s like from the other side of the dais, as well. He served seven terms as a Pearl River alderman before he defeated six-term Mayor James Lavigne in 2014. Lavigne’s long political career ended after he was indicted that year on allegations of theft and malfeasance in office. He pleaded guilty a year later.
McQueen said there was much work to be done when he replaced Lavigne in 2015, and that he’s spent much of the time since getting Pearl River’s affairs in order. McQueen had to hire a new town clerk when he took office, and he replaced the person overseeing the oft-maligned utilities department, as well.
“I ran to straighten some of this out,” McQueen said. “It was hard. Jimmy and I were friends. I had known him my whole life. ... We’re fixing things (that were done incorrectly before I took office) and there are a lot still to fix. ... I finally got some people in here I trust. We do it by the book with the procedures we have in place.”
McQueen said he anticipates the utilities department finally will begin reading its water meters by February, which will provide a financial boost to the town. McQueen said digital meters were installed during Lavigne’s administration, but weren’t read with individual consumption in mind. Charging residents for the amount of water they actually use, rather than a flat rate, is fair, the mayor said, and he wants to offer discounted rates to seniors when the meters go online.
“They never would raise the rates on water,” McQueen said. “I’m taking money out of my budget to make (ends meet at the water department.)”
McQueen added that the city’s sewer system capacity will double when a second facility is opened early this year beside the current plant.
“We’ll be good for another 25 or 30 years with our sewers, depending on our growth,” he said.
The 2010 census pegged Pearl River’s population at 2,540 residents, though that number is about 3,000 now, the mayor said. About 200 new homes are expected in coming months, and the area surrounding the town continues to grow.
That makes drainage a priority, McQueen said, and the town is working with an engineering firm to address drainage trouble spots in the Sullivan Place and Craddock Road areas.
More bodies also mean more cars, and McQueen said one of his top priorities is to have the Gum Creek Bridge replaced as soon as possible.
The bridge on the La. 41 Spur has been closed for 20 months since inspectors deemed it unsafe for vehicles. The parish and the town have worked together on bridge replacement, and the goal is to slightly widen and lengthen the short span.
Acquiring small pieces of land from a handful of neighboring property owners has been difficult, however, and there is no start date planned for a replacement bridge.
“There was $2.2 million appropriated in Washington (D.C.) for this,” he said. “I’d really love to see that bridge started.”
McQueen said he is excited to work with Jack Sessions, the town’s newly elected police chief. The mayor also would like to hire a full-time chief of staff/town attorney if he can find money in the town’s $3 million budget.
McQueen said Pearl River Town Attorney Tim Mathison would be a good fit for the job. Mathison recently retired as Slidell’s chief of staff and has expressed interest in the position in Pearl River should it be created, the mayor said.
“He can help us get a lot straightened out,” McQueen said. “He knows (town) matters and what needs to be done. He could be a lot of help to us. We’re already paying (him to be) town attorney, so it would only be a few thousand more to be full time.”
McQueen will have to convince the board of aldermen of that, however. He’s hoping that and other dealings with this group go smoothly.
“I feel good about things,” McQueen said. “I think we’re going to do more this time. ... Whoever gets this (job) after me is going to have it better than I did four years ago.”