The name Matthew was too formal for Matt Alexander’s casual nature and blue collar work ethic, two traits that fit perfect for the mayor of St. Joseph.
Alexander carries the title of mayor but also holds a shovel or wrench along side his town crews as they repair streets, water lines or deals with people illegally dumping trash in ditches. Alexander explained this is how he does things.
“Matthew is much more formal and doesn’t reflect my casual nature in a lot of things,” Alexander said. “It is a little bit too proper.”
Dressed in a long sleeve Carhart shirt, blue jeans and rubber boots, Alexander resembled a member of his town crew and not a starched politician.
“We are looking into issues that I heard about while going door to door last summer,” Alexander said. “Really appreciative for people candidly speaking to me and was really helpful.”
St Joseph’s infrastructure problems Alexander and his crew battle did not come over night. In Dec. 16, 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an emergency order to not drink, brush teeth, bathe or cook with the town's drinking water after elevated levels of lead were found.
Louisiana-paid contractors replaced the town’s 90-year-old system with brand new PVC pipes, two water wells, two filters, iron reduction equipment, new electronics and a refurbished water tower.
Grants and taxpayers footed the bills totaling $9.5 millions to repair town water.
St. Joseph’s financial situation caused water problems initially, said David Greer in a Baton Rouge Advocate interview. Edward’s office brought him in to administer St. Joseph and sort out its finances.
Sales taxes were shrinking, very little property taxes were collected and only some occupational license revenues were available, Greer said. The water and natural gas systems have, for a long time, been the largest source of revenues for the town. Monthly utility payments were routinely diverted to pay for street repairs, law enforcement and other activities, instead of maintaining the system.
With the water system woes behind them, Alexander and town crews are tackling street issues.
The group has an allotment of reclaim asphalt from the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and has purchased concrete to “stretch that amount” to fill in numerous potholes.
“Obviously in the future, we want to have a complete overhaul of the road,” Alexander said. “That would be great.”
St. Joseph officials have applied for various grants, but the funding process takes a longtime. Alexander admits his constituents desire better roads now.
“Instead of waiting for a grant, we are working with what we have to give people some relief,” Alexander said.
Alexander also wants to “clean up the town and have a more livable space.”
To help with the clean up, St. Joseph will host “dumpster days” where 30-yard commercial trash bins will be made available. Dumpsters will be made available to residents April 10, 17, 24 and 30 free of charge.
“We don’t have a landfill,” Alexander said. “If someone has something in their yard, they have no where to take it. We are trying to give people a chance to clean up their yard without any sort of fine.”
Tackling blighted properties is also on Alexander’s radar.
Members of Alexander’s administration are looking into possible control burns performed by the fire department with dilapidated structures.
With a background in blue collar work, Alexander knew he had to have some one with sharp office skills as clerk.
“I have surrounded myself with people smarter than me,” Alexander said. “I have a real good clerk.”
Momentum is building for St. Joseph with the various projects, a feeling that the Tensas Academy basketball coach knows.
“We would like this momentum to keep growing,” Alexander, who currently teaches and coaches at TA, said. “Momentum, from my experience as a basketball coach, is something you have to take advantage of. If you wait around and take it for granted, it is hard to re-establish, and it is easier to keep moving.”
Alexander is married to, Landrum, and together they have two-year-old daughter, Ava - his inspiration for making St. Joseph better.
“I’m are trying to be visible not for any political aspirations,” Alexander said. “My aspiration is to make this a place that my family and other peoples’ families can have a high standard of living. It isn’t extremely expensive to live here, but it is also hard to live here.”
With such high aspirations, Alexander admits he will not be able to accomplish his goals alone.
“We don’t want to leave anybody behind,” he said. “We want to move forward with everyone. This is leading by example not for personal gain.”
With that being said, St. Joseph’s town crew and their mayor will be out filling pot holes.