The vote on a new member for the Pointe Coupee Parish Tourist Commission reignited disagreement among Parish Council members over the selection criteria for the voluntary post.
Council members approved the appointment of Paula Lambert to the commission.
Lambert, a New Roads resident, has served since January as director of the New Roads Main Street Program.
The motion passed 5-2. Council members Kurt Jarreau and Billy Soulier opposed the measure.
The final vote came after Soulier’s substitute motion to nominate Livonia resident Claire David. Jarreau seconded the motion.
Lambert will replace Morganza resident Sharon Smith, who relinquished her commission post.
The board consists of five New Roads residents – Lambert, Valery Dukes, Betty Fontaine, Wilmer Moore Sr. and Aimee Moreau. Roy Chenevert of Livonia and Morganza resident Lisa Robillard round out the seven-member commission board.
Jarreau said he felt the commission should represent a broader portion of the parish. The same discussion arose on a vote last year.
“I don’t have problems with Miss Lambert, but when we took office, we said we would try to do right,” he said.
“We discussed this when we first took office, and what we have here is another New Roads resident on this commission … we’re not spreading the wealth.”
Council Chairman Dustin Boudreaux disagreed.
“Since we’ve been in office, these boards and commissions have involved controversial decisions, and I’m not just talking about the Tourist Commission,” he said.
“I once thought geography mattered, but I’m beyond that … I’m supporting the most qualified person for the job.”
Jarreau said he believes the geographical areas make all the difference for tourism.
“I don’t have any skin in the game, but right is right,” he said. “I would want someone on the Tourist Commission who represents a certain part of the parish who can bring something to the table.
“We have enough from New Roads, and we have two from La. 1 on the north end and one from the south end of La. 1, but nobody representing the island side of False River,” Jarreau said.
“What’s going to happen is that the more you have from New Roads, it will lead to a control thing. Some members may lose interest. Is it fair for it to be that way?”
Jarreau said each member who represents a certain area can suggest ideas for their portion of the parish.
“By not having a member from the island side, you’re taking that whole area out of the loop,” he said. “Some people may not like it, but that’s just how it is.”
How to fix it is another story, Bergeron said.
“It’s been controversial since the beginning,” he said. “We could pass legislation to reconstruct it and put it under a different umbrella.
“Instead of being its own political subdivision, we could put it under parish government – I’m not saying it’s what I want, but it’s an option.”
The council faces the same issue with other commissions.
“At the end of the day, I’m not dealing with an issue of one person being from my area or if we need to hire someone here and this other person is more qualified,” Bergeron said.
Parish President Major Thibaut said it’s an issue the council members will have to work out.
“The council has revamped how some boards work and how they’re appointed, so it’s now a way of trying to find the right mix of people and the right number of people for these boards, and whether you should go by qualifications or geography,” he said.
“They’re trying to figure out, and it’s going to take some time.”
The current ordinance requires seven members approved by the council, but it does not mandate they come from all areas of the parish.
The issue last surfaced during a May 2020 council meeting when members tried to fill two vacancies on the Tourist Commission.
Tourist commissions in Iberville and West Feliciana parishes include seven members, while West Baton Rouge Parish has eight. Commission members in all three parishes serve three-year terms.
The Iberville and West Feliciana parish councils appoint members. The West Baton Rouge commission includes one member from the parish’s hotel/motel sector, two from the parish historical association, one from the parish’s Chamber of Commerce, two from parish service organizations and two from the parish’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A similar issue arose when board members agreed in March 2020 to appoint Betty Fontaine to fill the remainder of the term of Nora Palmer, a longtime Pointe Coupee Parish educator and activist who died in February 2020.
The objection did not center on Fontaine, but on the lack of representation for other parts of the parish, such as Livonia, Morganza, Fordoche and Batchelor.