Come On Baby, Let's Do The Split
Nov. 5, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff

Here’s how it’s supposed to work.

You make a budget for capital outlay projects, and you try your best to roughly divide it down the middle in terms of funding. So if you have $7 million in capital outlay funds available, you do $3.5 million on either end of the parish.

Now, it rarely works perfectly divided, even with the best intentions. You might have a really expensive project on one end that sways the balance. You just sway it right back the next year to even things out.

In fact, that’s how it was done from the inception of the parish council form of government, pretty much all the way until former parish president Oray Rogers finished his two-term limit. It started going downhill after that.

There’s an argument against term limits if I ever heard one.

But anyway, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, and did work for a long time. We’re not doing it that way anymore, and it’s obvious.

Listen, maybe I harp on too much about that golf course. I want to make it clear, I think it is a great facility. It think that – properly managed and marketed – it could be a great asset to St. Mary Parish’s standing as a tourist destination. I do not think it is worthless, in principle.

What I object to is that it’s the biggest symbol of the inequity in the parish spending plans. The golf course represents the pinnacle of the unfairness going on in parish government.

You have to understand that to a large degree money gets spent where it’s applied for. If you apply for grants, you have to develop a plan, a comprehensive set of visions and goals, to qualify for grant funding and be awarded. It takes a lot of effort, effort that so far has been concentrated on the east end of the parish. So far, the Burns Point rejuvenation and the Millet Point boat landing are really the only big ticket items down this way, both grant funding.

Why, do you think, we have nothing like Kemper Williams Park here? Nothing like the golf course? Nothing like the Lake Palourde project? Certainly, none of these happened all on their own. A group effort secured them.

We have a parish facility at Burns Point and a state park at Cypremort Point, both old as the hills and far, far removed from the major population areas, whereas the golf course and Kemper Williams are right on the "main drag" through the east end. Lake Palourde’s park is impressive, and also in the populated areas. Lake Fausse Point Park, by the way in case you’re wondering, is a state park and in Iberia Parish.

What you see "over there" is a build up of interesting attractions for residents and tourists alike. What your see over here is basically a state park over which we have little to no say-so, and a parish park that was left to degrade terribly before plans were finally put into gear to fix it.

All this rambling leads to this conclusion: No concerted efforts are being made to develop this end of the parish’s potential in tourism and therefore no grants funds are forthcoming. The Cajun Coast people can promote their hearts out, but the simple fact is your parish government has developed a tourism infrastructure on the other end of St. Mary and none on this end, except a few boat landings and an RV park way out on the ends of the points.

Every other parish along Bayou Teche has successfully marketed itself in the Teche Country theme, except us, and here we sit at its tailwaters. Half of us have, anyway. Yet you pay your parish sales and property taxes and the vast majority of it goes east with the wind.

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Of course, we’re not completely blameless here in west St. Mary.

While last weekend’s Harvest Moon Fest was a success – such as it could be, since the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival people weren’t very courteous in rescheduling their event the same weekend as ours – the lamppost decorating contest was a mess, and that’s being generous.

You are hereby authorized to say "sore loser" if you want, but the simple fact of the matter is many teams busted their tails to get their lamppost displays to the boulevard for the Monday deadline…and the deadline was subsequently not enforced. Nor were rules regarding affixing objects to the lampposts, a condition for which others have been disqualified in the past.

Meanwhile, it used to be you could decorate your posts in the theme of the autumn harvest as well as Halloween but the new rules say the displays could only be harvest-related, since the festival is Harvest Moon and is in November.

Harvest moon, by the way, the actual lunar event, usually occurs in September or at the very latest early October.

It seems prizes are no longer awarded, even though I know of one person who offered to put up the prize money out of their own pockets, and was ignored. Wouldn’t have cost the city or the Chamber or the Merchants Association anything.

Who makes decisions like this, anyway?

It seems to me that we shoulda left well-enough alone with the lamp decorations, and jump at the opportunity when somebody offers to help. Does this mean that Christmas lamp decorations can only be nativity-based, no Santas or reindeer allowed?

What’s the point of strangling people’s enthusiasm and creativity with some silly thematic constriction that accomplished nothing in the end?

It irriates me profoundly. The lamppost contests have been the most rewarding and inspiring things I’ve seen this community embrace in a lotta years, you hear me? I mean, people got on board with it and went hog-wild, and it went great. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen people downtown have so much fun.

But again, we, as a community, are showing we can foul up a good thing with the best of them.

I did enjoy the festival. My girl and I picked up three prints by Francis Todd at a steal, and our purchases supported the Emergency Aid Center, too. I also picked a set of dishes I didn’t really need, but it was a silent auction in support of the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, which I appreciated. The car show was great and so was the music and everything else.

Well done, kudos, and accolades to those who put the festival itself together. I think we need to fall back and punt on the lamppost contest, since we appear to have rationalized and bright-idea’ed ourselves into a straight-jacket.

Behind the scenes, there was more fussing and disagreement than is healthy, from what I saw. That’s what kills things around here deader ‘n a door nail. We need to realize we all have ideas and personalities and the majority sometimes has to rule. All too often we fuss and fight our way out of a good thing and it goes away.

Let’s not do it this time. Let’s show we can do better.

——

So.

Where are all you people that committed to get involved? To get things straight around here? To do something – anything – to grow this community, to nurture and feed it?

Hmm?

Come on. It ain’t gonna build itself. We dang sure can’t count on government to do it, especially parish government. Not until we get motivated and scare the daylights out of ‘em with a mob of angry constituents.

It’s like the guy who bums a cigarette, then a light: What, you want me to smoke it for ya, too?

Hmm?

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Wouldn’t it be nice if Harvest Moon Fest was accompanied by – quite naturally – a farmer’s market with wholesome, home-grown produce, jams, pies, jellies, arts and crafts (a part of every successful, enjoyable farmer’s market) and more? What if, during that festival and market, a stage production of local history, dramatized into a fascinating story all and uniquely our own, were being performed? And if you could board a trolley – where was the trolley last weekend, by the way? – and actually go see some of the sites in the performance, among others? Tour a few homes? Perhaps a boat for a waterside tour of the area? Stay the night in some nice cabins along Bayou Teche, camp out before a paddle tour of the bear refuge? Maybe Harvest Moon Fest could be the kick-off of an entire holiday season of activities, like they do in Natchitoches, and that measley $5,000 a year the merchants association is getting from the city to buy Christmas lighting could be supplemented with some fundraising activities until we’ve got downtown and the bayouside so lit up you can see the dadgum thing from space?

Hmm? You listening, west St. Mary?

Parish government?

Parish council members and administration?

City government?

Chamber?

Rotary?

Republican Women?

Garden Club?

Veterans?

Boy Scout troops?

Churches?

Lions?

Knights?

Anyone at all?

Hmm?