Bert Hatten

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth of a series of articles written in 1998 by W.B. “Bert” Hatten based on what he considers to be the high points of his administration during the three terms he served as mayor of West Monroe from July 1, 1966, to June 30, 1978. This column was originally published Nov. 5, 1998.

A sage of the past, who was far more learned than this writer, said that, “No man is an island,” words of wisdom that applies not only to interdependent individuals but to communities.

So it has been historically between Monroe and West Monroe.

One of the high points of my administration as mayor of West Monroe from July 1, 1966 to Jun 30, 1978 was the on-going friendly rivalry between these two cities.

Typical might be the many occasions at which the mayor of Monroe and I would deliver joint welcome addresses to state conventions, usually in Monroe.

Jack Howard would nearly always lead off in the welcoming chore and give a long list of things the conventioneers could do and see in Monroe, adding,” and if you have a few minutes of time left you can drive over to West Monroe and look at the paper mill.”

Then I would follow him at the podium and thank “the mayor of the second best city in the state for his generosity…: Then I would assure the convention delegates that they would need more than a few minutes to fully appreciate the “best city in Louisiana.”

Once in the heat of a controversy over whether the old Monroe-owned bridge should be closed as a matter of public safety, Monroe Commissioner of Finance W.D.H. Rodriguez attempted to tone done tempers with these comedic words: “We could swap the bridge to the rednecks and goat ropers in West Monroe for a sack of ”possums,” a comment that was carried in the local media.

I fired back with this quasi formal rejection of Mr. Rodriguez’s offer: “Thank You, Mr. Rodriguez for your generous offer but we decline. And I remind you sir, “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

Mr. Rodriguez, on many occasions prior to his death offered me his sincere apology for his ‘possum comment.” In reality, he was a precise gentleman and a good friend.

The friendly rivalry between Monroe and West Monroe has always enjoyed a healthy presence, even when there was an occasional heated disagreement, most of which was quickly resolved or settled amicably over time.

In the main, the two cities have been great friends, each aware that the other’s successes served the best interest of both.

When I first became mayor of West Monroe, with no experience in city government except my background of having covered city council meetings as a newspaper reporter, I called on then Mayor Howard in Monroe frequently for advice on challenging municipal problems of the day, especially in struggling West Monroe.

Mayor Howard and Mayor Clyde Fant of Shreveport were both seasoned municipal administrators when I came along and they were both well informed about many of the intrusive and burdensome state laws which then imposed expensive regulations on local government, and still do.

Being a mayor, with no background of experience in city government, I reached out to many of the seasoned mayors in this area, and found them all eager to be helpful. In addition to Mayors Howard and Fant, these mayors were especially helpful: Johnny Bond of Bastrop, Jim Sherman of Columbia, Frenchy Marinneaux of Farmerville, John Perrit of Ruston and others.

Monroe Fire Chief H. L. Hales was an especially good friend to West Monroe in the struggle to strengthen our fire department and work with the Louisiana Fire Rating Bureau to achieve improvements in our fire insurance ratings. Chief Hales was a knowledgeable administrator and a technical genius, a real professional. And he was always generous with his time and talent beyond the realm of his responsibilities in Monroe.

Chief Hales could talk a great length about the importance of reciprocal backup between fire departments, meaning that when our department needed backup in a major fire outbreak Monroe forces were available to us on call.

Good neighborliness between cities is about the same as being a good neighbor to the people who live next door at your home. That’s the only way to be in the best interest of all.

To all of those everywhere who made any contribution to help me to be the best mayor my ability would allow, thanks, I owe appreciation to many.

As the series draws to a close, I must report that the most rewarding experience of 12 years in office was the excellent support received from the public in general, and especially volunteers who supported our programs.

The new city government complex, in particular, benefitted from a huge support committee headed by Professor George Welch. Mrs. Margaret Truly especially demonstrated exceptional talent and leadership, spearheading volunteers in decorations for new city hall.

I am honored to have served 12 years in harmony with these 12 dedicated members of the West Monroe City Council: Jeff Caldwell, Jr, Charles Anding, Truett Thorn, Roland Nix, Dr. Ed Blackmon, Bruce Brooks, Sam Yeager, Earl Duncan, Tom Mulhearn Jr., Billy Watson, Sonny Bennett and Billy Pearson.

Also, our new justice complex was modeled after a plan developed for cities our size by the Law & Justice Center at the University of Illinois, ours being the first to be actually built. Our Architect, Beuford Jacka, and Judge Charles Traylor, Police Chief Johnny Mitchell coordinated local input into the academic plan.

I have received credit for a lot that must be shared with others.

Next week: (Hasley Cemetery Trust)

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