The Ouachita Parish Police Jury agreed earlier this week to hire a lobbying firm for $40,000 to represent the parish governing authority’s concerns in state and federal government.
On a motion by Police Juror Scotty Robinson, the Police Jury voted, 4-2, to hire the Picard Group. The Picard Group is a Lafayette and Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, for which former 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander works.
Police jurors Jack Clampit and Larry Bratton voted against the measure, arguing that spending money on a lobbyist was a poor use of taxpayers’ dollars in light of falling sales tax collections because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Of all people, I’ve been pushing for a lobbyist, but I have a concern about the timing,” Clampit said. “Our money is extremely thin. I think it’s going to be a slim pickings year. In fact, I know it is.”
State government would have difficulty bailing out local governments because of its reliance on oil taxes at a time when oil is selling for $12 a barrel instead of $60, and federal government would likely face financial troubles while spending trillions to level out the economy, according to Clampit.
“In these uncertain times, I would prefer we hold off on this until we see what the economy is going to do,” Clampit said.
Bratton voiced agreement with Clampit’s remarks.
“Right now, with everything else we have going, with the tornado, the shock over our sales tax revenues, I’m just not comfortable pushing this forward,” Bratton said.
Robinson conceded the points raised by Bratton and Clampit.
“But this is something we have budgeted,” Robinson said. “We haven’t had someone fighting for us in Baton Rouge or Washington, D.C. since before my time here.”
Robinson has publicly announced his plans to campaign for the 5th Congressional District.
Clampit said he would like to get recommendations of lobbyists from the area’s legislators.
“I’d like to hear what they have to say,” Clampit said.
Police Juror Lonnie Hudson suggested they could hire the Picard Group for this “go round” and evaluate the firm’s performance after a year.
“If we can get someone down there for this period, I think that would be good,” Hudson said.
Clampit suggested the possibility that the Police Jury have to dip into its reserve funds to meet its budgeted expenditures. According to Clampit, the Police Jury should wait until it reviews sales tax collections in the parish for March, April and May, before it spends money on new endeavors or agreements.
“I think we’re going to see hard times in our sales tax collections,” Clampit said. “I’d like to see those three months before we make new plans.”
Bratton told Robinson hiring a lobbyist was a great idea but the Police Jury needed to be conservative with its spending at this time.
Bratton and Clampit voted against the measure.
On another front, the Police Jury approved the expenditure of more than $20,000 on the replacement of audio-visual recording equipment at the Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center in Monroe.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Daniel “Danny” Ellender, courthouse information technology employee Randy Yacher, and retired Judge Benjamin “Ben” Jones, who is the district court’s administrator, presented the request to the Police Jury.
“It is inoperable and cannot be repaired,” said Assistant District Attorney Jay Mitchell, who serves as the Police Jury’s legal counsel. “It needs to be repaired now because they are still housing juveniles there and holding court.”
The Police Jury approved the expenditure.
In other business, the Police Jury authorized its parish consulting engineer, Kevin Crosby, to initiate design work and surveying for a project repairing concrete panels on Holland Drive, a roadway providing access to the East Ouachita Recreation District. The EORD is nearly complete with the construction of a premier ballpark.
“This is the only road into the East Rec park,” Crosby said. “I would estimate the project is under $600,000.”
A final cost estimate would be provided at a later date for the Police Jury’s consideration.
“I drove it Saturday,” said Police Jury President Shane Smiley, who represents the district including the EORD. “The whole road doesn’t need to be done. There are some good parts, but some panels, those closer to the facility, are pretty bad.”
Crosby said a catch basin may need to be built because the road holds water near the gate.
Smiley pointed out the recreation center also served as a public meeting place and a polling location.
Meanwhile, the Police Jury recognized several parish employees for their years of service at different parish offices as of the month of May.
Employees at the Ouachita Parish Fire Department recognized included Matecki Nelson (5 years), Jonathan Daniel (5 years), Bryant David (5 years), William Mathis (5 years), Hunter McLemore (5 years), Taylor Raffray (5 years), Brandon Stephenson (5 years), and James Tarrance (5 years).
Mary Lopez, with the parish office of Homeland Security, also was recognized for 10 years of service.
“As always, on behalf of the jury, I appreciate the dedication and work of those individuals to our parish and citizens,” Smiley said.