Candidates for the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office and a handful of offices on the Ouachita Parish Police Jury answered questions last week about why they are campaigning for their respective offices and what priorities they have set, if elected.
The primary election is Oct. 12. Early voting for the primary begins Saturday, Sept. 28.
The candidates’ forum was held at the West Monroe Convention Center. The forum was sponsored by 90.3 KEDM, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, and the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce. The candidates’ forum was broadcast live on the radio.
The forum began with a series of questions directed to the three candidates campaigning for Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court: deputy clerk Dana Benson, attorney LaKeisha Johnson, and state Sen. Mike Walsworth. Johnson and Walsworth are Republicans. Benson is an independent.
The Clerk of Court’s office maintains all records of the court, commissions and administers the oath to juries, serves as an election official and custodian of voting machines, and records deeds and mortgages among other duties. The Clerk of Court’s office operates at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse on South Grand Street.
Questions about priorities, if elected, were addressed to Walsworth, Johnson and Benson.
Walsworth, who is term limited and cannot run for re-election to the Senate, referred to recent audits of the Clerk of Court’s office under former Clerk Louise Bond that showed deficits in the office’s general fund.
“In the last six years, we’ve had four deficits,” Walsworth said. “We can’t do that. We need to make sure we do better.”
Walsworth said there were other opportunities for improving security and public access to records.
“I’ve talked to clerks of court around the state,” Walsworth said.
“We all follow the same law, but we all have different procedures. This is about trying to bring different leadership to the Clerk of Court’s office.”
Johnson, who is an attorney, also noted the office’s financial performance as one of her key concerns.
“We can’t raise costs to cover the lack in revenues,” she said. “We also can’t turn people away.”
According to Johnson, many people did not understand how a case proceeded through the legal system. If elected, she said she would seek to make the legal process easier for the public to understand – without an attorney.
Employee morale at the Clerk of Court’s office also was a concern, she said.
“Employee morale has been an issue for some time,” Johnson said. “I think we need someone in that position who has experience, particularly legal experience.”
Benson, who has worked at the Clerk of Court’s office for several years, said the office’s fees are too high.
“They need to be lower,” Benson said. “We have many people who can’t afford the fees that are being charged right now. They’re having to file under the pauper status. When people file under the pauper status, that’s less money for the Clerk of Court’s office.”
At several points during the forum, Benson noted the currently poor preservation of records in the basement of the Ouachita Parish Courthouse.
“The records that we have in the basement — the basement floods so often, that there is so much moisture down there and it’s deteriorating our records quickly,” she said.
Meanwhile, candidates for District B, D and F voiced many of the concerns about challenges facing the people in those districts, most of those being poor roadways or insufficient off-road drainage.
Jimmy Tyson, who is challenging Police Juror Jack Clampit in the District B race, is a local contractor and hay farmer who said his No. 1 priority was roads.
Clampit did not attend the candidates’ forum.
According to Tyson, communities like Calhoun, Luna and Bawcomville deserved to be recognized more often. He did not specify what that recognition might entail.
“There’s lots of concerns that these communities want to be recognized,” Tyson said. “I think they get shortchanged.”
In the District D and F candidates’ forum, the most common concern was flooding and the need for more drainage projects.
Rev. Michael Thompson Sr., who is running for District D, said drainage and better lighting were his top two priorities.
“We have trees that are growing in the ditches,” said Anna Reed, who also is running for District D.