Candidates for local and state offices made one of their first appearances before black audiences last week, promising to listen and bring results to their districts.
The first forum for the October 12th elections was sponsored by the Southside Community Improvement Organization at the Emily P. Robinson Center. All candidates for State Representative, Clerk of Court, and Police Jury were invited. All are Democrats.
Of the four candidates for Representative District 16, only two came: Fred Jones and Alicia Calvin. Two candidates: Daryll Berry and Charles Bradford did not attend.
Jones, son of former senator Charles D. Jones, ticked off a list of concerns that included teacher raises and an increase in the minimum wage.
Jones said although teachers and support employees received a first time raise this year that it was hardly noticeable. He wants to push for additional raises equal to the profession.
Not only teachers need raises, but Jones pledged to work to raise the state minimum wage until all citizens earn a living wage. He did not specify what he called a living wage.
A 2018 Money Magazine report estimated a living wage in Louisiana would require a minimum wage of about $21.70 an hour.
Jones said the cost of living for everyone has increased and the state should move in that direction.
He noted that he wants to pursue infrastructure to improve roadways, drainage and other needs in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.
Jones said he wants to insure that companies such as Century Link are incentivized to stay in Monroe, but he wants to pursue initiatives to bring jobs back to areas.
Healthcare is of importance to the area, said Jones, who pledged to work to insure that rural healthcare remains available and the healthcare is always available to the poor.
He said he would work to insure that the voting rights of those who are released from prison are immediately restored. “When they are released from prison, they should be given their voter registration card.”
Alicia Calvin, who came to the forum 30 minutes late, said as an educator she wanted to promote programs that would improve education in the state, including teacher pay and other initiatives.
She said she too favors efforts to improve infrastructure and healthcare in the district.
Police Jury District D
Both candidates for District D Police Jury seat that is being vacated by Dr. Ollibeth Reddix were present: Anna Reed and Rev. Micheal Thompson. Both candidates are Democrats.
Reed said during her short term as an interim police juror she was “shocked” when she saw how much money was available in the police jury’s budget, but how little was being used for Southside District.
She said the district needs a voice because “while we are sleep” others are planning ways to defeat our community.
Rev. Thompson, who owns a local bail bond company and is a pastor, said drainage, and lighting are high on his priority list for the district.
He complimented efforts already underway to bring more lighting on Highway 165, but since there is a high pedestrian traffic, more lighting is needed.
Thompson said input he has received from citizens in the district reflects a concern for improved drainage in the district, which he pledged to address as the “voice of the people.”
Police Jury District F
Five of the six candidates for the District F. Police Jury seat vacated by former jury Pat Moore were present: Donnie Bright, Lonnie Hudson, Verbon Muhammad, Sonja Smith, and Cliff Thomas. Roland Edwards did not attend. All candidates are Democrats.
Bright said his research showed that there approximately $8 million available for use in jury projects. He said he wants to use his influence to “make sure that money is spent in our area.”
Bright said Trash cleanup and improved drainage would be his top priorities.
Hudson said infrastructure and clean water are the number one problems of District F.
He said he has been bombarded by residents who complain about high water bills. He said he will work on those concerns and “will not back down from anybody.”
Hudson said the Sheriff needs to be encouraged to diversify is deputy force with more minorities. He said there are “more Caucasians patrolling black neighborhoods” when there should be more African-Americans.
Muhammad highlighted crime, safety, and lighting as his top priority issues.
Muhammad, former president of the Monroe City School Board, said he was concerned with safety issues for the district. He noted that all of the prisons are located in South Monroe, which should be a cause of alarm.
He said he is concerned about the number of reported escapes from Swanson raising safety concerns in addition to drug prevention concerns.
Like Hudson, Muhammad said he too is concern about clean water in the parish. He said that there were lead pipes in the ground and that jury should work to get new pipes.
In addition, Muhammad said transportation is a growing concern in the parish. He said a parish-wide transit system should be explored.
Smith-Schaffer said she attended police jury meetings with her mother as a child and watched her lobby for road improvements.
She said her mother died in 2017, but her concerns about road improvements and other district needs remain. She made no specific promises other than to be available and willing to take responsiblity for being a voice for community concerns on the police jury.
Thomas, former police chief of the Town of Richwood, said he will be a spokesman for the district.
He said having served in government he is aware that there are many “serious issues” facing the people who are “tired of being tired.”
“The people are tired of suffering” said Thomas who noted that “there are six other people we got to deal with” on the jury to get help.
He said he believes the jury should partner with other governments to improve delivery of services in unincorporated areas.
Clerk of Court
Only one Clerk of Court Candidate attended the forum: LaKeisha Johnson (Republican). Dana Benson (Independent) and Michal A. Walsworth (Republican) did not attend.
Johnson, an attorney, said she wants to use the resources of the office to help the public not only use the office but understand the process. She said there are many filings that members of the public can file for themselves without a lawyer, which her resource center would be a benefit.
She said the average citizen does not understand how to file documents or research claims so she wants to set up a research center that will make the clerk’s office “user friendly.”
She said she wants to improve the performance of the office so that it is more responsive to those members of the public who are unfamiliar with their rights of access.
The Clerk of Court is one of highest paid government jobs in the area. Its last audit show the Clerk with a salary and benefit package of over $235,000 a year, managing a $4.2 million budget and 83 employees.