Council turns down recommendation for Registrar of Voters

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The Parish Council meeting Monday was over two hours long but the members failed to accomplish two important matters—-choosing a garbage collection company and appointing a registrar of voters. The discussion about Parish President Rick Nowlin’s recommendation of Lynda Vance for Registrar of Voters (ROV) was by far the most contentious.

Vance was the only recommendation. The vote to accept the recommendation failed with Doug deGraffenreid voting yes, chairman Rodney Bedgood abstaining and Pat Ward-Hoover and Paige voting no. Russell Rachal had left the meeting at that point.

The vote came after another lengthy discussion in which Assistant District Attorney Cloyd Benjamin gave the opinion of the District Attorney’s office that the whole council should have been involved in interviewing the candidates and making the selection. Among his statements were that the Home Rule Charter was vague on the selection process for the ROV. He said the ROV is an employee of the State and not of Parish Government and could not be selected in the same manner as Parish Government department head. He said the ROV was to be appointed by the supervising or governing body according to State statues. He also said the governing body could interview each applicant and the council must decide how to proceed with the selection.

Benjamin said he consulted with the Attorney General’s office and with parish governments that had a Home Rule Charter form of government. In several cases, the parish council was involved in the selection process of the ROV. Benjamin offered the opinion at the request of council member Pat-Ward Hoover who said that Nowlin did not give the list of the 21 applicants to the council and the members had no input in the selection of the final name.

“Why just one name out of 21?” Ward-Hoover asked. She said the council should have made the appointment, not Nowlin. Nowlin said he didn’t ask the council who he should appoint because they were not in on the interviews and he acted in good faith. Nowlin said the selection committee consisted of himself, Human Resources Coordinator Cathy Creamer, Parish Council Clerk Sheryl Frederick and banker David Guillet. He said they examined qualifications of the candidates and selected nine people to be interviewed and set up the appointments for interviews. “I think we did it the right way.”

He disagreed with Benjamin that a resolution was needed because a resolution was not a law. He said if he had no vote in the process, then he was being disenfranchised. In the discussion, Nowlin said Guillet sat in on five of the interviews and Frederick sat in on six. Neither was in all of the interviews. Ward-Hoover was adamant that the council had no input in the selection process and reiterated that Nowlin should have presented more than just Vance’s name. She was also critical of two people who worked with Vance, Nowlin and Creamer, being on the selection committee.

Vance spoke to the council about the values instilled in her by her grandfather with whom her family lived as a child. He taught her the importance of integrity and doing what’s right. A Northwestern State graduate who has lived half of her life in Natchitoches Parish, Vance said, “I’m aware that some people say I got here as a political favor or because of who my husband is and some will say I don’t deserve this honor simply because they don’t like me. Some of those people may very well be in this room.” She asked that they put aside their preconceptions and recognize her qualifications and her desire to serve. Vance is the Parish purchasing agent and was Nowlin’s executive assistant for over four years before that. Nowlin said in his recommendation that Vance had a combination of education, work history, job performance and her extreme work ethic and productivity set her apart from the other candidates.

Also speaking to the council were Debbie Tebbetts, the chief deputy in the ROV office where she has worked for eight years. Tebbetts said she was told that the top applicants would be presented and was surprised when only one name was recommended. She asked that she be considered for the job. Keisha McConathy, another applicant, asked for consideration. She had a degree in political science and 20 years work experience. Katherine Holden, a 20-year employee of the Clerk of Court’s office and lifelong Natchitoches resident, also asked for the council’s consideration.

After the vote, Nowlin said he was committed to working with the council to see if there was another candidate but would have input in the selection. He said Vance should not be excluded because she did not receive the council’s approval Monday. The process will continue at the January meeting.

There was discussion of the garbage collection contract with Waste Connections that expires Dec. 31 at midnight but there was no clear winner between the current contractor and the proposed contractor, DeSoto Parish Police Jury/Live Oak Environmental. After a lengthy discussion about aspects of the proposals from both entities, the council voted down Nowlin’s recommendation to approve an agreement with DeSoto Parish Police Jury/Live Oak. Waste Connections then agreed to a six-month extension of the current contract and the council authorized Nowlin to negotiate with both entities for a new contract. There were so many factors to consider such as amount of tonnage and number of dumpsters, it was difficult to know what each company offered.

At a special called meeting Dec. 6, Nowlin presented the DeSoto/Live Oak proposal to the council. Under their proposal, Live Oak would collect and haul the garbage to the DeSoto Parish landfill. He said at the meeting Monday that Waste Connections offered its proposal Dec. 10. Nowlin said he had a problem with receiving the second proposal after the first one was discussed at the called meeting and “everyone had seen their numbers.” James “Bugs” Veuleman, Waste Connections district manager, said during the meeting that he had notified Nowlin by letter in August that the new contract would go back to terms in the 2014 contract. Nowlin argued that Veuleman had offered the same terms as in the 2016 contract, a point which Veuleman then disputed.

Rachal said that he couldn’t see giving up what Waste Connections had invested in the community, $1.3 million by his account, in payroll, equipment, fuel purchases and other factors. Roy Walters, owner of Live Oak, said that he had 43 trucks and 47 employees. “You don’t know that I won’t bring that to Natchitoches. I’m here to build business,” Walters said. He also said that new business should have an opportunity to locate in Natchitoches and not be locked out by old business.

Parish Council member Chris Paige said he could not support Live Oak because of the potential for two employees to lose their jobs just before Christmas. Steve Brown, DeSoto Parish administrator and engineer, said his objective was fairness and open competition. He believes his and Live Oak’s proposal offers a dramatic difference in pricing and savings to taxpayers.