Parish Council will work on precinct fix; Mathews seeks bigger share for minority vendors

The St. Mary Parish Council has called a special meeting for Aug. 2 to change a handful of voting precincts so they can be approved by the Secretary of State’s Office, Louisiana’s top election authority.

The council set the special meeting at its regular meeting July 12.

Also at the regular meeting, Councilman the Rev. Craig Mathews proposed changes that would give the parish government a way direct more parish business to minority-owned businesses.


The Parish Council redistricting plan approved by the council in December, and which must be settled before the Oct. 14 primary election, must also include the voting precincts within each district. The precincts must be approved by the secretary of state.

But a few of the precinct changes included in the original plan were rejected by that office.

The council introduced two ordinances proposing a fix by merging precincts in Morgan City.

One of the ordinances merges Precinct 37-A with Precinct 39. Voters there would cast ballots at the Pharr Chapel Church Hall, 517 Federal Ave.

Precinct 39-A would be merged with Precinct 40. The Precinct 40 voting place would be at the Sheriff’s Office Sumpter Williams branch office, 455 Railroad Ave.

The ordinance says the changes are necessary because some precinct boundaries “are unworkable due to conflicts with state representative boundaries.”

Eastern St. Mary is split between state House District 50, represented by Vincent St. Blanc, R-Franklin, and District 51, represented by Beryl Amedee, R-Gray.

The second ordinance includes the boundaries for all 45 precincts.

The council had hired the South Central Planning and Development Commission staff to develop redistricting proposals for consideration by the council.

In a phone interview Thursday, South Central CEO Kevin Belanger said the need for revisions results the complexity of working across parish agencies and taking a variety of districts into account, including districts for the Legislature and agencies such as the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Belanger, who appeared at the July 12 Parish Council meeting on an unrelated matter, didn’t get a chance to explain what happened.

Parish Council Clerk Lisa Morgan asked the council to amend the agenda to allow Belanger to talk about the redistricting plan. But a lone no vote by Councilman Mark Duhon of Amelia blocked the attempt to add Belanger the agenda.

Duhon’s vote provoked some criticism at the meeting.

Parish President David Hanagriff accused Duhon of “juvenile behavior.”

“I just can’t believe we didn’t get it done tonight,” Hanagriff said.

“I just want you to understand what you’re doing right now,” Mathews told Duhon.

“I’m not the one who left it on the table,” Duhon said.

After the meeting, Duhon said there was “no juvenile behavior. The people elected me and I’ll vote the way I want to vote.”

Twenty days must elapse between the introduction of an ordinance and the passage vote. The Aug. 2 meeting date is just after the 20-day period.


Mathews encouraged the council to take steps to make parish government business more accessible for black-owned enterprises.

He preceded his presentation by showing a video of former President Lyndon Johnson talking about civil rights.

Mathews didn’t restrict his comments to government contracts. He talked about a recent visit to Bayou Bend Health System in Franklin.

“When I walked and into Bayou Bend and I went through their administrative department, when I walked through the administrative department, I saw zero people who look like me,” said Mathews, who is African American.

Bayou Bend is operated by St. Mary Parish Hospital Service District No. 1.

In a phone interview Thursday, Mathews said he received two emails from attorneys saying “some of my remarks have been characterized as defamatory.”

An attempt to reach Bayou Bend officials for a response was unsuccessful.

As for government contracts, Mathews said federal rules that make public sector business more accessible to minorities are generally stronger than those at the state or local level.

But even in the parish, services that fall below the cost at which state requirements for minority hiring take effect, smaller contracts for services such as landscaping could be made
more available, Mathews said.

At a minimum, Mathews said, the parish could have a diversity and cultural sensitivity official who could serve as “kind of a watchdog.”

“I know there is room for policies that can increase minority participation,” Mathews said.

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