Lafourche Parish voters will be asked to pick a new parish president in just under 40 days.
All three candidates vying for the job have experience in both the private and public sectors and are leaning on that to launch them into the seat.
The election will be held Oct. 12, with early voting held Sept. 28 to Oct. 5.
Archie Chaisson, Joe Fertitta and Luci Sposito are competing to replace outgoing Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle, who dropped out of the race earlier this year.
Cantrelle's administration has continued a legacy of tension and pushback between the parish's executive and legislative branches. All three candidates think they can break the trend, with communication and transparency.
They also have spoken about their big plans for economic development and tax reform.
If one candidate doesn't receive more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be held Nov. 16.
Here are the candidates’ answers to The Courier and Daily Comet’s campaign questionnaire. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What would be your top three priorities, if elected?
Chaisson: We need to reform our local tax structure, diversify our economy and make sure it is resilient and work to improve our drainage infrastructure.
Fertitta: Uniting the legislative and administrative branches, rebuilding the coast, establishing a department of economic development and grants.
Sposito: Infrastructure improvements, economic development and tax reform.
Do you think the parish government has enough money to provide the services residents want and expect? Would you vote for a tax if you were convinced the money would go to a necessary public service? Please explain your reasoning.
Chaisson: Before we ask the voters for additional revenue we need to look at what we already have. Our administration will conduct a study of all of our existing to see what we can reduce, reallocate and remove from the tax rolls. Only after this is done can we truly know if we need additional revenue, but I believe this study will show we have the funds already to provide the services our residents expect as well as be able to expand funding for things like recreation.
Fertitta: Declining revenues collected by the parish have put restraints on certain funds. However, by prioritizing services and adjusting fund balances within the budget there will be minimal disruption of services.
Sposito: I would not support additional taxes because the current tax structure is prohibiting economic growth. The goal must be economic development, which will increase the tax base instead of adding an additional burden to an already overtaxed population.
Are there services you would propose cutting if you are elected? What are they and why would you seek to reduce or eliminate them?
Chaisson: I do not plan on cutting any services on day one. There may be some services that can be streamlined and allow us to move resources to other departments or services.
Fertitta: All services provided by the parish are needed and should not be cut.
Sposito: I'm not planning to cut any service at this time.
How would you resolve the decades of tensions between the executive branch and the Parish Council?
Chaisson: We have to work to communicate better from both sides. My door as well as the doors of our department heads will be open for any questions from the council. Regardless of existing ordinances or changes to the charter, department heads will be at every council meeting and be ready to answer questions. We will also invite the council clerk to all of our weekly staff meetings so that she can be included in project updates. I will also ask that the new council consider going back to committee meetings.
Fertitta: Being from the southern part of the parish and living in the northern part help me to know and understand the concerns of all areas of the parish. Communication, transparency, trust and teamwork are essential, this will only happen with positive leadership.
Sposito: Tension between the executive and legislative branches can be resolved with transparency and communication. The parish president must be available and she must allow and encourage communication between parish department heads and council members.
How would you reduce the high turnover of department heads and administrators? What qualities would you look for in those positions?
Chaisson: We will assemble a team of qualified department heads that have experience in both the public and private sectors. We will find candidates with good communication skills as well as specialty knowledge depending on the department they will be managing.
Fertitta: Choosing individuals who have expertise in their area of assignment and using their skills in making decisions that affect the daily operations of the parish. Listening to their concerns and ideas and using these to make informed decisions. Department heads and administrators who are trustworthy, possess good communication skills, believe in being transparent and exhibit a spirit of teamwork are skills needed for effectiveness of any organization.
Sposito: By hiring individuals who are qualified. The qualities I'll look for include ethical behavior, public servant mentality, commitment to cooperation, excellent communications skills.
How can Lafourche Parish modernize and prepare for the population growth of new generations that depend on/use more technology?
Chaisson: We will hire a full-time parish engineer to review new development to assure that we are growing in a responsible manner. Combining that with working with our neighboring parishes to make sure that we are working holistically within our watersheds and not causing problems for each other. Using GIS data and building a parish watershed model to show us where our water moves will help us make determinations on where and how development should take place. My goal will be to make sure we are leaving a landscape our children and grandchildren can continue to develop on long after we are gone.
Fertitta: Developing a user friendly website to gather and disseminate essential information, improving Facebook page to showcase Lafourche Parish, using Twitter to get information and messages out to the public.
Sposito: Our drainage system is archaic and its weaknesses prohibit wise growth. The Telemetry and Scada systems, which can be operated from a central location or smart phone, must be a priority in order to protect our homes and businesses.
What would you do to help diversify the Lafourche economy and spur economic development?
Chaisson: Within the first 30 days we will contract a firm to build a portfolio for our parish. It will look at the the land that could be developed and what it may be suitable for so we can grow in a responsible manner. It will compile a list of local architects, engineers and contractors. We will look to Fletcher and Nicholls and their graduate fields. This will allow us to show potential companies we have the land, the people who can build it and the people who can staff their company long term. We can also show them Fletcher and Nicholls are producing nurses, teachers, chefs, biologists, etc., so not only can their business locate here, but we also have great schools, healthcare and amenities that make Lafourche home for their employees. We will work with the South Louisiana Economic Council and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development to create economic development districts that have tax incentives built in for new or existing businesses to tap into to make locating here or expanding easier.
Fertitta: Actively pursuing businesses and industries that want to expand, collaborating with SLEC business incubator, working with Nicholls and Fletcher to ensure that employees are prepared for the available jobs. Work with our local state and federal legislators in getting infrastructure funding
Sposito: We will hire a firm to analyze our tax structure and make recommendations for reductions which we will discuss with board members and community leaders. For the first time in Lafourche Parish history, we will hire an experienced economic developer. We will hire someone with experience securing grants, capital outlay and entitlement funds. We will utilize funds to leverage against parish dollars and improve infrastructure.
How can Lafourche Parish position itself as more business-friendly?
Chaisson: First we can reform our local tax structure and work to reduce existing taxes to make businesses want to come here. Doing this will allow our existing businesses the ability to grow and hopefully expand. Secondly, we can work with our state and federal delegations to secure dollars for better roads and improving the connection to Hwy. 90 while completing the I-49 corridor. Improving the parish's image and working to show potential businesses that we are a place to live, work and play will also be an advantage.
Fertitta: Re-evaluation of the tax structure to eliminate the burden on certain businesses, offering industrial tax exemptions to qualifying businesses, streamlining the permit process, spotlighting all that Lafourche has to offer, good people, low crime rate, well-trained workforce, great schools, terrific food, and "Joie de vivre."
Sposito: Lower taxes will immediately make Lafourche more business friendly. We also need to listen to the concerns of our business community, so we will create a committee comprised of business owners from throughout the parish to serve as advisors to parish government.