(Eric Cormier / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, January 05, 2013 7:40 PM
Maintaining infrastructure, nurturing an environment where new ideas are appreciated and winning their respective elections are just some of the goals shared among Lake Charles’ seven City Council members.
During 2012, the group made decisions on a number of high-profile issues — allowing the sale of the former Pinnacle and former Sears properties for development; overseeing Mayor Randy Roach’s management of a budget deficit; redistricting; continued discussions on a lakefront hotel.
In the spring, each City Council member will be up for re-election, and if they win, all intend to keep pushing the administration to complete negotiations on current development deals.
The American Press spoke to City Council members to learn their perspectives on the past year and what they intend to focus on in 2013.
When he looks back at 2012, Simien recalls the enjoyment residents have had at Riverside Park. He also thinks construction on the Enterprise Parkway extension is being met with anticipation when it is finally completed.
“There was a lot of functional development in the district. What I mean by that is, we have projects that are completed or near completion that residents can use,” he said.
Simien’s to-do list includes finding $15 million to complete the second phase of the Enterprise Parkway extension from Katherine Street to Fitzenreiter Road.
“I want all residents to remember that the northern part of the city has natural beauty and value. I feel a lot of people in the public are starting to realize that. Ultimately, that is really important because we’ve got to change the mind set,” Simien said. “And if you pay attention, people are starting to take pride in this community and about what we have.”
What Simien considers a problem in his district, doesn’t necessarily fit into his municipal authority, even though negative effects are felt. Simien views improvement of public schools in the northern part of Lake Charles as an ongoing struggle.
“It’s the politics of improving school performance. I think there is a disconnect with how schools in the overall system that perform well and how schools in the northern part of town function. That disconnect had a direct result in the new charter schools opening,” he said.
Simien also thinks city and business leaders need to get “progressive” in their thinking about the city’s future for fear of not being able to tempt or retain talented and creative people who find the city’s retail and entertainment scene as lacking.
An atmosphere of camaraderie among city Council members and City Hall is what August has relished the past year.
“I have been very pleased with the working cooperation between us all,” she said. “There is give and take, and nobody leaves a meeting upset.”
She said local law enforcement has been helpful in solving crime problems within her district, which she considers a bedroom community.
August is interested in seeing a few more businesses locate in the district, even though she knows that opportunities are limited since the main roads that could provide locations do not figure prominently within the district lines.
“Only a small portion of Broad Street, Fruge Street and Highway 14 pass through,” she said.
Looking toward the new year, August wants to see a resolution to the contract issues shared between City Hall and firefighters.
“The city doesn’t have a contract with the union, and we need to do something about that,” she said. “Last year we met with the new union leaders, and I was pleased with what they want because they understand the city has been dealing with financial issues.”
August wants to see a policy change occur in the way firefighters are hired.
“You get applicants who have to pass a physical and then a background check. I would think you would do the background check first,” she said, with the understanding that some applicants are lost after the background check.
August also wants to see if something can be done to retain firefighters after the city pays the bill to train them.
Since he’s been a city councilman, Geyen has developed a reputation for being the consummate optimist.
When looking back at 2012, Geyen spoke of nothing but improvements that will help the city position itself as a powerful hub in the South.
“Look at the new transit center. That was done for the public to make sure they don’t have to be in the elements,” he said. “I think the new city court that’s being built is wonderful because that brings people downtown, and that means more opportunity for businesses to succeed.”
Geyen noted that the Ryan Street streetscape and ongoing improvements on the Civic Center grounds and lakefront have have improved the city’s image.
Within his district, he is pleased with the Hunter Street, Sixth Street and Summit Street construction projects. “These are construction jobs that will lead to new water lines that citizens need, drainage, new surfaces and sidewalks,” he said.
Geyen said the council has worked well with the administration and that the relationship will carry over into 2013.
Geyen is not pleased that the Lakeside development project on the lakefront failed.
“I didn’t think we had anything to lose there,” he said.
The National Hurricane Museum and Science Center — which is supposed to be built on the north side of the Civic Center grounds — is a concept that Geyen gets giddy about.
“Hopefully that will become a reality,” he said. “I think that building will bring a sense of class to the lakefront.”
Managing fiscal issues remained a top priority for elected city officials, and Ieyoub believes the City Council and administration accomplished their goals.
“Together, with the cooperation of all city employees and departments, we found ways to cut expenses and work more efficiently, which ultimately reduced our projected $1.3 million deficit to a $42,000 surplus,” he said.
Positive movement toward getting construction going on the former Sears and Pinnacle properties were viewed as successes too by Ieyoub.
“That will bring shops, restaurants, housing and entertainment for all of us who live in our great city and for the thousands of people who will be coming here to visit and to live.”
He is happy about the completion of the city’s transit facility downtown.
“The way the city took a dilapidated, blighted building and, through the wise use of matching federal and state funds, transformed it into a beautiful structure that exemplifies the transformation of our downtown that we’ve seen take place over the past year,” Ieyoub said.
Regarding 2013, Iebyoub said, “I think we can set as one goal to always remember that as the city grows with this influx of economic growth, we can’t forget to continue our efforts to provide the basic servers that our citizens expect,” he said. “Keeping them safe through our police and fire departments; maintaining and upgrading our infrastructure, including water and sewer; and looking for innovative ways to annex unincorporated areas.”
Capital projects were viewed by Weatherford as important to the city’s attempts to establish strong infrastructure that will benefit current and future businesses.
He highlighted the Lake Street (Sale Road to McNeese Street) drainage improvements and other projects.
“Working jointly with the parish and private landowners for the completion of East McNeese Street was a success,” he said. “Also, working with Chennault International Airport, the parish and state, to continue with expansions at Aeroframe and Northrop-Gruman to grow the workforce was exciting too.”
Weatherford is optimistic that a major transportation improvement will eventually become a reality.
“We have to continue our partnership with the state, port, parish and casino companies to proceed with the I-210/Nelson Road, Prien Lake Road corridor project,” he said.
In 2013, Weatherford would like to see “aggressive marketing of our developable lakefront property; continuing to streamline city operations; look for ways to consolidate services; and an honest effort to work with the parish to provide water and wastewater infrastructure to residents and help additional development contiguous to the city.”
Weatherford also wants the city to complete its sale of the former Pinnacle lakefront property to Mardi Gras Boardwalk “and progress in the development of a first-class entertainment destination for families and people of all ages.”
He also intends to push for the proposed West Sale Road project (Holly Hill to Lake Street), which he thinks is overdue because the road improvement would make it safer for motorist and pedestrians.
Since he’s been a city councilman, Jackson has driven a lot in the Sunset Acres subdivision. He’s observed homes that needed to be refurbished or torn down and junk automobiles that needed to be removed.
Three weeks ago, he only saw two homes that the city needed to figure out what to do about. “It’s cleaned up and looks great,” Jackson said. “That is a success that encourages everyone in the district.”
In 2013, Jackson said he wants the City Council to continue overseeing lakefront and downtown development deals because those types of investments will lead to more revenue for the city and make the city enjoyable for locals and visitors.
In 2012, he thought City Hall’s attempts to manage a million-dollar budget deficit was a success.
“We did good, but you have to give the credit to the administration and the city departments that did all the hard work in watching spending,” he said.
This year, Jackson wants to get city officials to consider getting rid of unnecessary laws.
“I’d like to see an overall review of the city code book and pull out useless laws or ones that are not enforced,” Jackson said. “And I also think we need to make it easier for people to pull the permits they need for development. It is the time to do that since we are looking at an economic boom. Right now we need to think about streamlining.”
Completed and ongoing capital projects also pleased Eckard.
He pinpointed the Lake Street-to-McNeese Street contruction project; McNeese Street extension into east Lake Charles; opening of the transit center; renovation of the City Council Chambers; and the beginning of construction on the new city court downtown as highlights in 2012.
Eckard viewed the city’s hosting of the Louisiana Municipal Association convention as a positive.
“The city got great reviews, and we had 1,800 people from around the state in attendance. Everyone was impressed with the efficiency, hospitality and city in general,” Eckard said.
He was disappointed that the city’s sale of the Pinnacle lakefront property was not completed in 2012 and the “unraveling” of the Lakeside Lofts development.
In 2013, Eckard looks forward to seeing the lakefront land deal with Mardi Gras Boardwalk being completed.
He also thinks the city will be faced with challenges from businesses and manufacturing expansion that’s supposed to occur around the parish.
Eckard believes the city should look at alternative fuel sources for public vehicles.
“Implementing the use of propane in our fleet of vehicles and equipment will help lower operating costs and be environmentally friendly.”
Annexation of land near the East McNeese Street extension is another objective Eckard will work towards in 2013.
“And I want all of us to continue to strive to make Lake Charles a destination!” Eckard said.