Voters will fill two at-large seats on the Covington City Council when municipal elections are held March 30.
Three men are competing for the seats. Jerry Coner is nearing the end of six nonconsecutive terms representing District B and is term-limited in that role. Larry Rolling also is term-limited after serving two terms as the councilman for District D.
Patrick McMath has only been on the Covington City Council for two years. He won a special election in March 2017 to fill the remainder of Councilman Lee Alexius’ term, after he succumbed to cancer five months earlier.
No matter which two of the three are elected, they will have the distinction of being the longest-serving members of the seven-person board.
That’s because four of the five district seats will be filled by newcomers to the council. Of the quintet, only District C’s Joey Roberts has served any time at all on the board, having won a special election in April 2018 to replace Mark Wright, who won the District 77 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Roberts was elected without opposition during qualifying for the next council in January, as were newcomers John Botsford in District B and Cody Ludwig in District D.
The District A and E seats also will have first-time council members, with those elections scheduled for March 30, as well.
The council-at-large candidates agree on many of the issues facing Covington, with each listing drainage as among the most pressing. It’s the first full slate of municipal elections since widespread flooding in the city in March 2016, though Covington residents have faced rising water from area rivers several times since then.
Addressing the city’s infrastructure needs is another key issue, candidates said, as is business development and retention.
The two leading council-at-large candidates on March 30 will be seated with the rest of the council on July 1.
Coner said voters who value a candidate’s experience should consider him for one of the two at-large positions.
First elected to the council in 1987, Coner said he’s been elected six times because he listens to citizens’ needs and helps communicate their requests to city government. He said that type of effort is needed on issues from cleaning ditches and trash pick-up, to something as daunting as drainage and flooding, which he said continues to be the city’s top problem.
Coner said retention ponds should be built north of the city to help keep floodwater from reaching homes in Covington. He also wants drainage canals and ditches between the Bogue Falaya River and the Lee Road area cleared of debris and vegetation that he believes is clogging drainage arteries and causing much of any flooding seen in city limits.
“We have to work with the parish and the state to get those things cleaned out,” he said. “The city has done everything it can do, now we have to work with them to get those areas tended to. They're working on it, we just have to keep it up.”
Coner said he has the experience working with parish and state officials to handle that job best.
He also supports making the vast majority of city employees part of the civil service system, rather than just police officers and firefighters having the designation.
“Fire and police got a 2-percent raise while others got 1 percent,” he said. "Some positions and department heads can’t be civil service according to our city charter, but the rest should be treated equally.”
McMath, 34, said he’s advocated for making improvements to Covington’s infrastructure since running for political office for the first time two years ago. Since winning the special election, he said he’s learned even more about the city’s sewer and water system, and he’s not particularly thrilled with what he’s seen.
“The whole system is aging and it needs to be replaced — from the pipes to the treatment plants to the lift stations in between,” he said. “That’s a big deal for me.”
McMath said assisting further business development in downtown Covington also is high on his list of priorities. He noted Covington’s burgeoning arts scene, and how the dining scene downtown has been buoyed by the success of businesses such as the Southern Hotel, which provides sophisticated accommodations for visitors and locals wanting to enjoy the offerings of Covington’s historic downtown.
“We’re starting to be known as a food destination,” he said. “In a town of 10,000 people, to have the quality of restaurants we have is unbelievable. Our downtown is thriving. We need to attract new businesses there while helping the ones already there to thrive.”
McMath said he’s not surprised that candidates for city council and mayor are speaking about the same issues. In fact, he finds it encouraging.
“Covington is a special place,” he said. “We don’t have a ton of major problems, but the ones we do have, like infrastructure, are very apparent. … It’s important that we identify problems and work together to solve them. The current council has done a good job of that, and I’m very hopeful the next council, and the new administration, will do the same. I’m looking forward to being part of that.”
Rolling said he was turned onto what everyday citizens could do to help their communities after graduating from a Leadership St. Tammany class in 2004. A year later, he served on Leadership’s alumni board for the first time, and in 2006, he moved from Mandeville and made Covington his permanent home.
“We have a wonderful and unique community here,” he said. “We have three of the parish’s largest employers with St. Tammany Parish Hospital, the school board and the parish’s Justice Center. Our city expands to 20,000 people in the day, and at night it goes back down to 10,000 residents.”
That regular influx and outflow of people, however, creates traffic snarls, as well as wear on the city’s roadways. Rolling said he’s listened to residents and businesses for suggestions on how to best manage city infrastructure, and that he’s learned a lot in the process.
“The biggest thing for me in the past 7½ years is paying attention to which direction (the citizens) want to go and how they want to handle whatever issues we face,” Rolling said. “The current administration has left the city in good shape, and I’ve been able to help as a district councilman.”
Besides infrastructure, Rolling also said addressing drainage concerns is essential.
“Any time water is bearing down on your property, it’s an issue,” he said.
As a small business owner for 18 years, Rolling said attracting and retaining business is critical.
“There’s no doubt our businesses are the heartbeat of our city,” Rolling said. “We all see the benefits when they are successful.”