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Citizens help parish hire administrator

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Charlie Ban

County News Digital Editor & Senior Writer

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Handling business in Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana has been a team effort. The 13 police jurors all pitch in to help their secretary-treasurer manage the parish’s affairs, treading water as the work comes and goes. 

But not too far away, President Steve Eastman was seeing his peers swimming ahead. 

“For me, the turning point was a $100,000 state grant. We had a deadline to use it, and we missed the deadline,” he said. “We got it back a few cycles later, but it was getting obvious our staff didn’t have enough time to manage it all. There’s just so much money coming down from state and federal government programs we were missing out on.”

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The parish needed another body, one that could manage its affairs and its advancement, and Eastman was convinced that whatever the cost, it wasn’t going to be greater than the opportunity cost of what the parish was missing out on.

“We needed someone day-in-day-out, able to go to Washington or Baton Rouge and advocate for us. That money is there and we have to ask for it. The secretary-treasurer can’t step out of the office to go talk to our legislators.”

The parish needed an administrator. 

“It seems like most parishes in Louisiana have one, it seemed like the right move,” Eastman said.

How that administrator would be hired would take the same teamwork and collective contribution that had been the parish’s approach all along. The police jury scoured their peers, got some job listings from the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, and wrote an ordinance that would become the job description. Then they delegated the hiring process.

Police jurors nominated a total of eight citizens who would compose a seven-person advisory council with an alternate member. That council will review the resumes, interview candidates and agree on a ranking to send to the police jury to make the final interview and hiring decisions. Members all demonstrated high levels of civic engagement, and included businesses owners, a retired banker, a retired county agent and a minister, among others.

“We didn’t want it to be a political discussion, we wanted members of the community to make their recommendation,” Eastman said. “It will be hard for the jury to say ‘We don’t want these few top applicants,’ and to go with one of the bottom-ranked applicants, just because they know them, they have connections.”

A week before applications closed, the parish had received nine applications, better than the five or six Eastman had expected.

“Someone asked me if the applicants would be intimidated being interviewed by eight people,” Eastman said. “I thought it would be good practice for having 13 bosses on the police jury.”

Big targets

Eastman said that although the administrator would have a mandate to pursue all sorts of support for parish development and advancement, two specific infrastructure projects showed promise. 

The first was to build out water and sewer capacity in the town of Lacassine, located off of I-10.

“We’re a prime spot for an overnight stay if you’re driving from Florida to California, but there’s nowhere to stay and the service isn’t sufficient to add a hotel there,” Eastman said. “If we can give people a reason to stop in Lacassine, we can generate some revenue and make the most of being right off the interstate. We just need to make construction feasible with more water and sewer capacity.”

Eastman also saw the potential for road improvements to aid less-happy travelers — coastal residents heading north to avoid hurricanes. Funding to pave gravel roads could help ease pressure on other northbound roads, both as primary evacuation routes and arteries to relieve congestion on state roads.

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