The sole challenger to incumbent Terrebonne District 5 Councilwoman Christa Duplantis-Prather is calling for major changes to the parish's recreation system, setting herself apart from her opponent.
Jessica Domangue, a clinical social worker in the parish, is challenging the five-term councilwoman in next month's election. If re-elected, Duplantis-Prather would serve a final term before being required to take another four-year break.
This is the first time the seat has been contested between two women since at least 1995, according to records from the Secretary of State's Office.
District 5 includes parts of downtown Houma and the Lisa Park area.
The election will be held Oct. 12, with early voting Sept. 28 to Oct. 5.
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?
Domangue: Quality of life for children and families, standing up to the recreation boards; public health, addressing opioid crisis; and infrastructure, drainage issues and speeding through neighborhoods.
Duplantis-Prather: Making sure our tax dollars are going where they should be and that the council and administration are accountable and transparent. Drainage, sewage, roads, curbs and sidewalks are important and impact everyone, and will continue to be one of my priorities. Making sure the people of Terrebonne Parish are safe is increasingly important and a top priority. I support Neighborhood Watches and crime prevention programs and increased law enforcement to improve safety. I’ll be proposing a program in District 5 to place speed humps and traffic control devices to curb speeding and other traffic concerns in neighborhoods.
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.
Domangue: There is absolutely no reason to raise taxes in Terrebonne Parish. We already have enough money coming in to address all of these issues.
Duplantis-Prather: I know every penny counts to our citizens. Just as they have had to tighten their finances when the economy is suffering, so too should local government. We must spend responsibly, eliminate waste and be transparent and accountable for providing the services important to the people of Terrebonne Parish. If we do this, the Parish will be able to provide services residents want to see. I would not support any new taxes. We should all be working to lower the taxes of the people, not to increase them. But if there were a way to re-allocate some of the current taxes to better support the needs and concerns of the residents (for example, police and fire services to improve public safety), I would consider that.
Are there services you would propose cutting if you are elected? What are they and why would you seek to reduce or eliminate them?
Domangue: As long as we can maintain a balanced budget within the existing tax structure, there should be no reason to cut any existing services.
Duplantis-Prather: I am not in favor of cutting current services, but I am open to exploring options to increase the services concerning safety (speeding, crime and police presence), quality of life (parks, green space and recreation) and public property (drainage, roads, sidewalks and curbs) to provide comfort and give back to the taxpayer. We also need to better inform the citizens of Terrebonne about the services that are available to them.
What are some specific ways you would like to see Terrebonne diversify its economy?
Domangue: I see opportunities in technology and tourism. We have seen many cities in the state become regional hubs for technology companies and we should be able to attract them here. One specific untapped idea for the tourism industry is Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s new marketing campaign for Louisiana called “Feed Your Soul.” A key initiative of it is highlighting the movie industry. People from all over the world love to travel to the locations where their favorite movies were filmed, and we have been the location for many films. As a councilwoman, I will work closely with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
Duplantis-Prather: We need to bring more jobs to the area. To do that we need to diversify the economy while highlighting the uniqueness of Terrebonne Parish. This includes highlighting our airport, the Port of Terrebonne, the seafood industry and our access to various waterways. We can expand our medical community by attracting more specialized medicine to the parish as well as providing a clinic to serve the mental health needs (addiction, homelessness, mental illness).
Do you think the steps taken to reform recreation have been enough? What changes would you like to see, if any.
Domangue: Absolutely not. The council failed the taxpayers of District 5 last year with a vote to approve a $2.5 million bond issue for Recreation District 11. The underlying accounting numbers were very suspect, and our councilperson should have listened to the watchdog groups raising concerns instead of rubber-stamping the proposal. One year into it, and the district is already dangerously close to missing debt service payments. There needs to be even more oversight and possibly from outside parish government.
Duplantis-Prather: We have a lot of work ahead of us as far as recreation reform. We have started the process with the TPR director and new policies put in place by the parish, but of course we can do more. I would like to see recreation expanded to all age levels, to all skill levels, to special-needs citizens, and to new programs that are designed for mental recreation rather than physical recreation. The public’s input should be heard and be an important part of the process of recreation reform.
Would you favor or oppose abolishing the parish's 11 recreation districts and operating recreation as a parish service like drainage or roads? Explain your reasoning.
Domangue: I don’t think a complete consolidation is the right answer. But, we have to understand that most of the district boundaries are still based on the old police jury lines predating the consolidated government. We need to take some steps to address the population and demographic shifts of the past 40 plus years.
Duplantis-Prather: We would need to carefully assess the advantages and disadvantages of abolishing recreation districts. Ultimately it should be the voters who decide if things should change, or stay the same. Their voice must be the deciding factor in the future of the recreation districts.
How can Terrebonne modernize and prepare for the population growth of new generations that depend on/use more technology?
Domangue: The Federal Communications Commission is in the midst of reworking the rules for franchise fees that are imposed on cable operators by local governments. We need to stay at the forefront to offer residents choice and competition for the technology infrastructure they rely on.
Duplantis-Prather: With the internet and online shopping, it's been a challenge to our local retail stores to keep their sales up as customers move to online shopping. We must find a way to help them survive to keep the economy of Terrebonne parish growing. Technology is changing the way people and companies conduct business, and we must plan for the future and evolve our services to keep up. For those who have internet access, services such as permit applications should be made available electronically, while keeping the traditional means for those without internet or computer access.