If you want to know what people around here think of their government, you don’t have to look much farther than Tuesday’s election results.
Election Day gave local voters a good chance to weigh in on several important referenda.
The most important local issues, perhaps, were two proposed sales tax increases – one in Terrebonne that would have paid for deputies and police officers to be stationed at all schools and one in Lafourche that would have helped pay for garbage collection.
Both were soundly defeated.
In Terrebonne, there seems to have been a general sentiment that with one of the highest sales tax rates in the state and therefore the nation, the government is getting enough money from us. It just has to learn to make better, more efficient use of it.
The matter was complicated when the School Board got involved in politicking for the tax. The public doesn’t really like it when government agencies use the public’s own resources and property to tell people how to vote.
School officials can quibble over whether what they did was a violation of state law, but it was certainly a violation of the school system’s own policy, which states unequivocally, “No School Board property shall be used for political activity of any kind.” But officials used school signs to post messages such as, “School resource officers save lives. November 6. Yes vote -- SRO in every school.”
Now, in the strictest sense, perhaps that doesn’t explicitly tell people which way to vote. But it does make a one-sided argument in favor of the tax. Voters weren’t buying it, though.
Now, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said, there will be cuts to his office’s services. He was going to use the extra money not not needed for the school resource officer plan to make up a deficit in his department’s budget.
At least he had a what-if plan.
Not so in Lafourche, where Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle said this week he just doesn’t know how the parish is going to continue paying for garbage collection without the extra tax money.
It’s a shame Cantrelle and the other actors in the Lafourche government sideshow weren’t thinking about their general credibility when they were engaging in political bickering instead of seeing to the people’s business.
The problem now is that Lafourche voters have for so long seen their government embody dysfunction that even a measured, well-reasoned argument for a slight tax hike to pay for a vital service falls on deaf ears.
That is understandable. People get tired of living in a parish that’s best known in some circles for a political circus filling the role that elsewhere is played by leadership.
And speaking of leadership, the voters took the lead in imposing what the Lafourche School Board should have done itself.
For years, the 15-member board has refused to reduce its size, a move that would have by now saved the taxpayers a significant amount of money and greatly simplified a needlessly convoluted political system.
Well, if public servants insist on serving themselves instead of the public, sometimes the public resolves the situation itself. And it looks like local voters have done just that.
Several of the anti-reduction board members didn’t run for re-election, but several of those who did were trounced at the polls Tuesday. And the new School Board has a solid majority of members who favor being good stewards of the public’s resources.
There is no reason for Lafourche to continue being one of three parishes in the state with a 15-member board. All the neighboring parishes have much smaller boards, and they seem to be getting along just fine. Unless you’re in the business of creating jobs for politicians, there is just no reason at all to keep 15 of them employed as board members.
Finally, the public got a chance to have its say, and it did so loudly and clearly. Now, perhaps, the common sense reform that could and should have been accomplished so long ago can finally take place.
So where does all of this leave us? We have some incredibly disappointed – some might even say sulking – public officials who likely fail to understand why the people won’t unquestioningly fork over more money to them.
The wiser of them, though, just might take this for the message it can be: What our officials do and say matters, and the people will sooner or later hold them accountable for it.
-- Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mikegormanla.