Cameron Parish Administrator Tina Horn. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, December 07, 2013 11:19 PM
Tina Horn, who has been the parish administrator for Cameron Parish for the past 20 years, has announced her plans to retire.
Horn talked with the American Press about her career with the Cameron Parish Police Jury and her work in helping restore the parish after Hurricanes Rita and Ike.
American Press: How long have you been parish administrator?
Tina Horn: Parish administrator, about 20 years.
And how long have you worked for the Cameron Parish Police Jury?
Last month, it was 33 years.
What are the challenges of being head of the only local government in a such large, rural parish?
It’s a large, rural parish with not a big population. Our last census was 6,348 people (in the parish). So you can’t hire a bunch of office staff to take care of 6,000 people. So everyone has to wear a lot of hats. And we also have to back up each other in case someone is out.
It’s not like some of the surrounding parishes where everyone does one little thing.
I consider myself a working administrator. I get involved in a lot of things that other parish administrators don’t get involved in. I’m pretty hands-on and always have been with the parish because I started out working with the grants coordinator, and then moved and was a permit secretary, and then moved up and was a secretary to the secretary of the (Police) Jury and then I was the secretary of the Jury and then I became parish administrator. So I was at the bottom of the totem pole for a while. So I know all the aspects of the job, so the staff can’t pull one over on me because I’ve been there and done that and I still answer the phone if it rings too many times.
I enjoyed being hands-on. I enjoyed trying to help people of the parish. There’s not a whole lot of incidences where you are able to give positive news and help people move on and give people good news. And of course, they don’t remember those times. They remember the bad things you had to tell them.
But I always believed in being very bottom line and telling people the truth, even if it hurts. And with these last storms that we had, there was a lot of disappointing news for people. And it’s taken us this long to rebuild. We only have a few structures left to rebuild and then we will be out of the recovery mode. I’m glad that we’re wrapping that up, so I don’t feel bad about thinking about retiring because I know the economy is in a good place and we’ve recovered from the storms and it’s just the right time for me to move on.
Talk about the challenges and what you went through as administrator after Hurricane Rita.
Right after Rita was a big blur because you were just jumping from one thing to the next to try to get things moving. Everyone I talked to in that time, as they looked back, they said the same thing — it was kind of a blur. We did learn very quickly how FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) works in recovery and we worked with the state. We had some good people on both sides with the GOSHEP (Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness) office and with the FEMA office. Thank goodness for that.
These people that I have been working with have really helped us, telling us how to do things the right way so that we would get our reimbursements.
But it has been a challenge, challenge after challenge. Then you have the public that says, ‘‘Why are you building all these big buildings?’’ My answer to that is Cameron Parish deserves nice facilities. You should be proud of your parish. We don’t want to over-build anything, but you rebuild, you build for the future. Just because at the time of the storms the economy was down doesn’t mean that it won’t get right back up. I’ve been here when the economy was great and I’ve been here in the late ’80s when we had to lay off people. You have to plan for the future.
After Rita, you get the second blow with Ike.
Yes. With Rita, we had a lot of tornadoes before the water. It just looked like bombs went off all over the parish. With Ike, not so many tornadoes. There was a lot more water for Ike for the western part of the parish. But the one thing that did happen after Rita, we had a lot of people who still wanted to put mobile homes on the ground. In our flood-damage prevention ordinance, we required to make people elevate. And, of course, people were trying to stay on the ground.
When Ike came and they lost their home again, I had no more problem with elevation. In fact, people were going where they knew the water levels were above where the water levels were for Rita. It was a sad thing, but it did help in the permitting office getting people to comply.
We knew more about what we were doing, so we were able to handle Ike a lot better than when we had Rita starting out. The recovery efforts for Ike are just about over. Lord knows, I never thought it would take us this long to recover from either storm. But when you are working in government, there are so many obstacles that you have to overcome and approvals that you have to get . You have to do it the right way or you don’t get reimbursed.
At the time of Rita, the parish as not in the best financial shape. The economy has picked up since then and thank goodness, everything is going in a positive direction.
I would not wish a storm on anybody and to go through the recovery efforts ...
And two of them in succession. How big of a heartache was that?
You know, I put the parish a lot of times in front of my family. And I didn’t realize how bad it was. My husband works overseas and my daughter was in the eighth grade when Rita hit and my son was just starting at McNeese. I was committed to the parish and I was torn between the parish and the family.
My husband’s company let him come home so he could take care of our housing needs and our family because I could only do parish work. You were there before the sun came up and you didn’t get to wherever you were sleeping that night until after dark. And (there was) no cell phone coverage and all that other good stuff.
I have put the parish first and it needed to come first so that we could recover. And I probably would do it again.
It’s a great parish. On my drive home it’s nothing for me to see ducks and geese and even a deer or two. It’s very relaxing for me. I do not want to live anywhere else. A lot of the meetings that I’ve gone since the storms happened, people were saying, ‘‘You just need to move out of there. You just need to leave the coast.’’
In fact our floods maps that were given to us right after Rita had the majority of the parish in a V-zone, which is a high-velocity zone, and FEMA will sell flood insurance but they will not reconstruct a public facility in a V-zone. We fought that battle. In my tenure, it’s the second time we had to appeal flood maps. We were very lucky. We had Lonnie Harper and Associates, which is a small firm, but very brilliant firm that knows a lot about modeling and they were able to win our appeal for the second time. So we did get those V-zones changed. And so at least if there’s nothing else in Cameron, we’ll be able to rebuild our schools and our parish government.
And you either have to shut it down and don’t worry about it or you have a community for the people whose families have been here forever.
We have the fishing community that has to be down here and then you’ve got your oilfield (companies) down here. Thank goodness we were able to rebuild our schools and our churches and our parish government, and we were given a means to do that. And I hope during my lifetime we don’t go through it again.
You mentioned having to deal with the federal government and its requirements. How tough was it having to straddle the requirements of the federal government and things not moving as quickly as the public would like and is demanding and you are caught in the middle?
Yeah. That happened in more than one way. There was an incident after Rita where everyone wanted to go to their property. Some of the roads still weren’t passable. The toxic vapors in the air from the mud and whatever was on the ground was very hazardous to people’s health. But they said, ‘‘This is our property, we want to be there.’’ And it really wasn’t a safe place for them to be.
So they were kept out probably for a week longer than they felt they should have been. But then we were able to let people come in and sign in and sign out as they left in the afternoons so we wouldn’t have to worry about anybody.
I even had a lady who does a lot of ecological things and she has access to labs. She came down and said, ‘‘Tina, your people don’t need to be down there. I’ve run some toxins on the stuff that I picked up off the ground and it’s horrible.’’
And I said, ‘‘Yeah, I know, but what are you going to do?’’
We tried to hold them off as long as we could and, of course, the (police) jurors were criticized because of it, but it wasn’t because we didn’t want them to be able to access their property. It was because it was the best thing to do for them.
And then, too, with FEMA changing our flood maps and people wanting to rebuild real quick, they needed to wait a little bit so we could get this resolved. I would always tell everybody, if you are going to rebuild, you know where the water line was after Rita for the southern part of the parish, just try to go above that.
And then what was also imposed on us — Rita hit in September — and in January, we were required to pass an international building code and have it in place by March. So we all learned what the heck was in that. It’s a learning curve, but I’ve got some great people here who are not afraid of work and they stepped up to the plate and got schooled real quick. We all learned a lot.
The state never required residentials to follow the building code and had the state Legislature passed the building code, possibly we’d have more homes that weren’t destroyed. With the tornadoes, maybe not. But the building code is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing. That was just some of the hurdles we had to jump over right away. There was one thing after another going on. It was a crazy, crazy world.
What are you most proud of as far as your accomplishments as parish administrator?
I haven’t had a contract with the parish and that I’ve been reappointed every year as parish administrator. A lot of people like to say that Tina Horn is running the parish. Well, what I do is give the guys, the (Police) Jury a lot of information. If I’ve been there and done that, I tell them what happened. I give them the scenarios and I let them make up their mind. That’s all I’ve ever done.
There are little things that happen that you would think that common sense would prevail. So I try to be the common sense person. If there is a way to do something and I know we are not get in trouble for it, I will tell everybody how to do it. That goes with building, that goes with any kind of development. I believe in giving people all your resources and letting them make up their own minds.
That’s my biggest accomplishment, because I’ve had other parish administrators say to me, ‘‘I can’t believe you don’t have a contract. Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you stay awake at night not knowing if your are going to be reappointed.’’
I come to work every day, do the best job I can and I sleep good at night. I treat everybody the same. I don’t do favors for people. I treat everybody the same and I’m happy. I have a clear conscience about it. And that’s the only way I can be, the only way. I just think that there’s a lot of good, hard working people in this parish and this is a great parish.
The parish has so many things to offer people that people don’t even know about like Rutherford Beach for instance. People don’t realize how you can go and relax and walk along the beach and pick up seashells. That’s wonderful. And hear the ocean at the same time. I like this parish just a little bit and I’ve fought for it on many occasions.
Everything from coastal erosion, everything we try to do here, because of our small population, we have really had to fight for, on the federal level and on the state level. The people that get the focus are the people with numbers. After Rita, thank God, Katrina happened because we rode on the coattails of Katrina because they were a month ahead of us and so any extensions that they got or any kind of federal help they get got, they put if for Katrina/Rita. And thank God (they did).
What do you see in Cameron Parish’s future?
Cameron could really be something. You’ve probably seen the Cameron Answers with Mrs. Laura Leach and her group. They have done some studies.
With all the resources that Cameron Parish has — the hunting, the fishing, the shelling,the beaches and then you’ve got the oil industry here too. To me, Cameron is just waiting to be found. Hopefully, we get some entrepreneurs here who can see a Kemah or something developing here. We’ve got everything you need to make it happen. It’s just to get the investors here to make the money and then to get the workforce here.
But it goes both ways. Unless you have jobs here, you don’t get your population back. We want a place where our children and our grandchildren can live and work here. We’ll just have to see how that goes. But the possibilities are there.
What ground haven’t we covered?
I always give advice at my staff meetings which I don’t believe in a whole lot of staff meetings because we are all so busy. But the one thing that I do tell my people is to treat everyone the way you want to be treated and the world will be so much better. And not to react quickly on any subject. Go home and sleep on it. That’s just my philosophy. I’ve reacted before and been sorry for it. I just kind of let it set there for a little while and sometimes it takes care of itself.
Ryan Bourriaque who has been training under me for a year loves the parish as much as I do. That comforts me a lot. He’s very energetic.
Talk about that transition.
It’s been very good because I have always told my people what they need to do, given them any training that they needed and let them go. But I’ve told them that I’m right here if they need me. Every now and then I will check on this, that or the other and make sure it’s moving forward.
Ryan just fit right in. I gave him a few things. He picked up on things during the Police Jury meetings and he actually was doing things and getting me to sign off on them. He’s going to be good for the parish.
I love this parish. I’m not abandoning this parish. I’m going to be here. I’m a phone call away. If you need me, I’m here. If I need to be in front of you I will be there. Just let me know.
It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. There’s one thing about this job. The days go by so fast. There is always something interesting going on. It may not be a good thing or it may be a good thing, but there’s always something going on to make your days fly by and like I said, I’ve always been a working administrator. I am starting to hand off thing because my retirement date is in March, but I have a lot of unused vacation leave that I will be taking. There’s a lot of things that I would like to wind up with the FEMA people and GOSHEP folks so that it doesn’t become someone else’s headache. I don’t know if I will be able to accomplish that, but I’m going to try to do that before I leave.
What are you going to do in retirement?
I’ve worked all my life. Since I was 12 years old, I’ve always worked. It’s going to be a change, but I think I’m going to like it. Just to let my brain relax a little bit. Some days you feel like, ‘‘What did I accomplish, what did I even do today because there is so much going on?’’ And a lot of times you won’t see me leave here until 6:30 because that’s the only time I can work.