THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Proud…And Not So Proud

Really now. I don’t know if I can stand it.

Twice. Twice in as many weeks, this community has made me so dang proud I could just burst with delight.

Last weekend’s “Voices of the Past” celebration of the 200th birthday of St. Mary Parish came on the heels of the Tour du Teche paddle race the weekend before. I thought the TDT was going to be a tough, tough act to follow.

I was wrong.

We flat out blew them away last weekend. Again.

Techeland Arts Council opened the weekend with the premiere of “No Hitchin’” and its inaugural performance, “What A Ride!” Shows were also held Saturday and Sunday.

St. Mary Landmarks presented its second “Sweet Remembrances” cemetery tour on Saturday and rebooted Tour of Homes on Sunday.

In all, it made for a grand weekend for locals and visitors alike.

This year’s cemetery tour featured over 25 graves including the 1926 carnival monarchs, Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting pal, Crawford Rose, participants of the Dreher-LeBouef murder trial and execution resulting in the first woman executed in Louisiana and the documented owners of Last Island, the Voisin Family. Grevemberg House Museum was in mourning. Three historic churches were open including Asbury United Methodist Church, the first African-American church in St. Mary Parish; St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and the Church of the Assumption. The historic Masonic Lodge and the historic United States Post Office building, recently purchased and restored by investors, were also open to the public. Both buildings feature interior restorations.

The Tour of Homes included structures open to the public including Bocage-on-the-Teche, Oaklawn Manor, Shadowlawn, Gates House, Trowbridge House, Grevemberg House and Allain House. Each home has a unique story to tell spanning over 150 years. Visits from a president of the United States, homes of five governors of Louisiana, famous folk heroes and occupation during the War Between the States are a part of their storied past.

I am directly associated with Techeland Arts Council, and we opened the weekend with the premiere of our live performance based on the collected stories and memoirs and folklore and tall tales of…us.

We packed the house for three nights in a row. Packed, ya folla? Packed.

Four years of work led up to this, and no, this isn’t the finished product by a long shot. It was a first stage in an evolution that will, eventually, grow in depth and breadth and soul.

Because I was on weekend duty for the newspaper, in addition to being present for every performance of the TAC production, I got to cover the two tours.

It was astounding, seeing actors in the cemetery and the historic homes portraying not only notable figures from our past in this charming place, but also, in some cases, their own ancestors!

You can’t beat that with a stick, ya hear?

I am, once again, so proud of this community.

We rocked. Two weekends in a row.

And in two weeks, Franklin’s Harvest Moon Fest is going to be taking center stage.

We’ll continue to rock.

——

At last night’s Franklin City Council meeting, R.P. Fitch took the podium to contest a more than $500 water bill he received in September.

That bill, which would account for some 100,000 gallons of water, was far off the mark of the $35 bill he usually receives in his unoccupied house on Main Street, both many months before the outrageous bill, and in the month following.

Mysteriously, the city installed a new meter on Fitch’s a few months before.

Things trotted along as normal until September when Fitch suddenly found himself holding a bill in excess of five hundred bucks.

Fitch says repeated negotiations with the city have resulted in no satisfaction. In fact, he had to pay $135 as a first installment for a pay plan to catch up on the whole bill, just to keep from being disconnected. He plans to move into the home in a couple weeks.

He calculated that two gallons a minute would have had to have leaked from his water lines for 31 days to amount for the bill. That’s five swimming pools, he said. He said contractors checked his plumbing and found no leaks.

Councilman Chuck Autin said he went to the property on several occasions and found no evidence of leaking water. But Utilities Director Dainae Prejean said she also visited Fitch’s home on repeated occasions. She said she found water saturating the ground, and while she presented the council with photos of plumbing fixtures she alleged were new — as if Fitch had made repairs to the lines to hide a leak — she offered no photos of the standing water she witnessed. Fitch countered that the fittings were 10 and 2 years old, respectively, and said he perceived an attempt to blame him.

In the interest of “transparency” as the catch phrase goes these days, I know R.P. We serve on a community organization board together. I consider us friendly acquaintances but not friends, in that we have never interacted socially together.

Federal law, the city says, prohibits adjusting water bills unless it’s proven the city is at fault. Prejean said the meter was calibrated before it was installed, then recalibrated and checked many times after the disputed bill was issued, and found to be accurate.

Fitch also stated plainly that some city officials tried to discourage him from attending the meeting Tuesday, because it would cast the city in a bad light and make him look like a man who didn’t want to pay his bill. He agreed with that last part.

That anyone in any government would attempt to discourage a citizen from attending a public meeting to address a grievance is reprehensible.

Note that Fitch’s property is just across from the cemetery and the Sanders Street intersection with Main Street, both areas of which have experienced numerous water line problems in the recent past.

What’s lacking here is some common sense.

A hundred grand gallons of water doesn’t just disappear. A person’s water bill doesn’t just jump that much for one month then return to normal. Autin found no evidence of a lake in Fitch’s yard. Where did it go?

The city has not proven that it is not at fault. To be fair, Fitch has not proven he is not at fault. But the fact remains, 100,000 gallons of water disappeared and there’s no trace of it anywhere. That results in something of a stalemate, but the unfairness is that Fitch has to pay the bill because the city, which holds all the cards, says it shouldn’t have to bear the burden.

Fitch makes the same point on his own behalf.

Two councilman were clearly doubtful that 100,000 gallons of water passed through that meter in only one month, in a city plagued with water system problems for decades. However, neither really got their gander up to insist on justice.

It’s becoming a common theme at the council meetings. No one wants to stand up for the citizenry. Forgetting that they serve the people of Franklin, not the executive branch, they cower down and let people like Fitch walk off with a $500 water bill. All it would have taken was a motion to adjust the bill, federal law be damned. What, they’re going to send the utilities police down to Franklin, Louisiana and haul everyone off in cuffs? Come on. A motion would have at least demonstrated that at least some councilmen felt an injustice was at work, and if defeated, clearly shown how the pieces fall.

There’s no common sense at work here. A meter that works well for months suddenly vomits, and then goes back to working well does not indicate a discrepancy on the homeowner’s part. Mechanical systems fail temporarily all the time, and mysteriously correct themselves. Anybody who’s ever operated a toaster knows that.

City hall can hide behind the law, but I’ll note as a sideline that the information Prejean passed out was not shared with the media Tuesday night. Under “the law” the media is to be provided the same materials as the council, and repeatedly over the years has not, despite the fact that we have submitted correspondence to the city years ago and I have made verbal demands stating our rights under “the law.”

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