DENHAM SPRINGS - All six candidates vying for the spot left open on the Denham Springs City Council by Chris Davis had plenty to say at the Denham Strong City Council Forum Thursday night. The winner will hold the office for, roughly, two years and will then run again.
The event, which was organized by Denham Strong members John Cavalier (owner of Cavalier House Books) and Jeaneatte Clark (City of Denham Springs) looked to provide citizens with some insight on the packed stable of hopefuls looking to fill Davis' vacancy. Council attendees were Laura Schmitt Smith, Brian Ross, Ray Riley, Scott Kimble, Keith Stark, and Amber Dugas.
According to most of the candidates, the biggest issue they discovered on the campaign trail was drainage. While the city, and parish at-large, are involved in regional efforts that affect all of the Amite River Basin, the city is working with local drainage districts and the city's department of public works to get canals, ditches, and storm drains clear in-and-around the city limits. Those efforts were the result of flooding inside Denham Springs High School (no permanent damage recorded) in August after a heavy rain.
At the beginning of each around, all six candidates were tasked with answering a question about the City at large. Answers centered around economic growth in Denham Springs, as well as trying to offer more family activities inside the city limits without having to go to Baton Rouge, or elsewhere.
What do you believe is the identity of Denham Springs?
Denham Springs City Council candidates talk identity of the city | Video gallery
What is your vision for the City of Denham Springs?
Denham Springs City Council candidates talk vision for the city | Video gallery
If you could pass one ordinance right now, what would be and why?
Denham Springs City Council candidates discuss ordinances | Video gallery
After all the candidates supplied their answer, each was presented with a question - selected at random - about smaller parts of the city and their thoughts on the subject matter. The candidates answered three random questions apiece.
Inquiries ranged from thoughts on parks and recreation, to what book had influenced the candidates life the most - and everything in between. But the candidates took it all in stride having been provided the question list ahead of time. (Full list of questions at the end of the story)
Finally, the candidates wrapped up the meeting by discussing why it was, specifically, that they were running for Denham Springs City Council.
Denham Springs City Council candidates discuss why they're running for the Council | Video gallery
- Do you think the city should be divided into council districts? Why or why not? (Schmitt) No, Denham Springs is roughly 7 square miles and I think that would only serve to segregate the community.
- What do you think about the ratio of independently owned businesses to corporate or franchise owned businesses within the city? (Ross) What's correct for specific cities? I think there is certainly not enough small business in Denham Springs.
- Within the city there are few affordable rental options for lower income citizens, young professionals, or working families. Should there be more affordable options and how can that be accomplished? (Riley) I think there should be (more affordable housing) and I would work within the city to ask current developers to re-zone and re-develop their property, and ask for new developers to include those options.
- What areas of Denham Springs do you believe are experiencing growth that is good for the City? What areas could be improved? (Kimble) There are too many restaurants coming to Denham Springs and it's not helping us move away from a "bedroom community." We need to attract more businesses outside of the restaurant industry.
- Denham Springs is not a very pedestrian friendly city. What steps, if any, should the city take to make travel more pedestrian and bicycle friendly? (Stark) I live off Jerlyn Drive, and my neighborhood is completely devoid of sidewalks. I'd work on acquiring grants to help produce sidewalks in the places where we need them. We have to be careful, however, since we are an entry-point for I-12 beyond just our city limits.
- How do you feel about the city's current budget? How would you improve it? (Dugas) Our Council already does a great job with the budget, I'd just work to make sure we keep receiving good audit reports.
- Given the vast majority of land within the city limits is developed, parceled, or otherwise occupied, how can the city encourage redevelopment of space that is underutilized? (Schmitt) Florida Boulevard has been difficult to redevelop. Ideally, we'd try to attract a developer like Bass Pro to come in and help redevelop the area.
- As a potential council member, what are your thoughts on using city funds for council travel to conferences? (Ross) I don't know how it currently works, but I think it would be most appropriate to offer a per diem for the trip. It probably works as a reimbursement right now, but I'd recommend a per diem like large businesses do.
- Where do you hope to see the city in 10 years? What ground work are you trying to lay down during your term? (Riley) I want this place to be a city that I'm proud of, a place where my grandchildren want to live, and over the next 5 years I'll work to make sure that we are developing into a family-friendly place.
- How will you remain visible to constituents? (Kimble) I live here, I own a business here, and I shop here - I see citizens all the time and I don't work anywhere else.
- What does Denham Springs lack? How would you propose ordinances to make sure that these areas are improved? (Stark) Citizens still have to go to Baton Rouge for a lot of things, and the city is still in recovery mode. Denham needs to get into expansion mode, maybe by incorporating the rural areas east of town and re-zoning them for commercial development. Let our real estate agents go to work.
- What book most influenced your life? (Dugas) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
- Aside from your own vision for the City, how will you work with the other members of the City Council to formulate a single vision? (Schmitt) When you're on a board, you have to be able to work with people and come to a consensus. The current Council does a great job of working together and I look forward to being a part of that.
- What does Denham Springs have that, in your mind, is a good thing? How would you propose ordinances to make sure it remains healthy? (Ross) We need to clean up the parks, keep people in the city, and have more kid-friendly things. We need to keep the citizens engaged.
- What do you believe is the hardest part of being a city council member? (Riley) Trying to please all of the citizens. There are a lot of people with a lot of different goals and opinions, sometimes you step on people's toes.
- How would you address any personal weaknesses that could affect your ability to be a council member? (Kimble) You just have to overcome. Everyone has issues, but we're taught not to bring home issues to work and work issues to the home.
- What activity or business would you like to see in the Antique District? (Stark) I'd like to see a hobby type shop for our youth, give them something to look forward to and go do.
- How would you improve Spring Park? (Dugas) This park is a lost opportunity that I think the city needs to reclaim, since it is our namesake. I think a beautification project, along with some night-time lighting and restrooms, could do a lot to convince people to come.