By Nick Villaume
Everyone is still reeling from a tumultuous and contentious 2016. The new year continues to present challenges. For Lake Charles, it’s going to be a pivotal year, as we elect a new mayor this March.
After a very successful, and impressive, 16 years in office, Mayor Randy Roach will not be seeking re-election. His position is currently being sought by a number of prospective candidates.
Being newly returned to the Lake Area in 2013, I admit that only one or two of the candidates are familiar to me and, being an adamant believer in the power of local government, I wanted to know more about these candidates. So, I made a Facebook post with some question for the candidates. I feel that my post has helped to lay out the issues that we, as voters, should be considering as we elect our next mayor.
I think the first thing to consider in this race is whether or not we are electing a mayor who will make things happen or simply a bureaucratic who will deliver a lot of lip service. Mayer Roach, over the course of his career, has become known as a man of action. While this doesn’t always happen as quickly as I would like, he always follows through on his plans.
Secondly, I feel it is important that we elect a mayor who can bring together the north and south ends of our city so that we can grow collectively as opposed to making many of the mistakes that other cities make when they experience rapid growth, which is to create sprawling suburbs and a declining inner city. The only way to vitalize impoverished areas of Lake Charles is going to be for a mayor to develop programs that will help the residents increase their quality of life, income levels, and the value of their property.
Finally, I feel it is important that we elect a mayor with a vision for the city. While many tout their lifelong residency of Lake Charles as a badge of honor, I personally prefer a candidate who has studied and experienced the way that other cities have grown and prospered and who one seeks to implement that vision into our own community.
So, here are a few of the hot button topics that we need to be considering:
Infrastructure. In my opinion, this falls into two areas: drainage and roads. We want to be evaluating our next mayor with regard to what he thinks the solutions will be, as well as how he will work with other parish and state governments to execute a solution. Drainage is a much larger issue and a lot has already been invested in a solution. Thus, having a mayor who understands the dynamics between local, parish, and state bodies is important. As for traffic, it is important that a mayor consider what can be done with our existing infrastructure as opposed to creating new projects. For example, what about a turn lane on Ryan Street?
Quality of life. As our community grows, it is going to be important that we sustain a strong social base among our residents. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his ground-breaking book, Outliers, a community built around a strong sense of connectedness and a confidence in itself is a thriving community. This means that the city will be responsible for creating opportunities for our community to get out, meet each other, and take pride in their city. Projects that are currently underway include: biking and walking paths, local art exhibitions and festivals, downtown development, and parks and recreation.
Future growth. As mayor, our candidates only have a finite area to consider for growth. I think it will be important that our next mayor capture as much of the future housing growth as possible within the city limits. A revitalized urban area is the best protection against future recession and creates a more manageable infrastructure with a high quality of life. Projects such as the waterfront and I-10 corridor will be crucial to creating a strong city.
Education, crime, and community. It became evident, in the recent mayoral information session, that these three topics can be closely linked. And, it’s not enough to have a strong police force, or excellent schools. We must create a community that believes in itself and works together to promote a sense of responsibility and respect for one another. As such, this crosses over into quality of life. Our mayor is not going to be able to tackle national issues, such as prayer in school, so we need to evaluate our candidates based on what they can do.
Income. Not a popular subject, but important. We have the highest local sales tax in the nation. Our next mayor will have to address this. High sales tax, while great when tourists spend money, is bad for residents and local businesses. The next mayor must either figure out how to bring in more tourists, or cut costs and taxes. We need to hear their opinions and plans for how the city will spend, and save, money.
So, we have a lot to consider and a lot at stake. As a resident, it’s your job to do your homework.
Check out the candidates Attend an information session, or call them up. We need to make sure that the legacy of our city is interested to the best qualified candidate, and the only way to do that is for voters to be engaged and informed.