The new faces of Parish GovernmentNov 28th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: News, Top Story
The 2011 election season in St. Bernard was a series of close races, with very few clear winners emerging from primary elections in October. The Parish President, Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Assessor, even council seats were not decided outright.
However, when the November 19 runoff was concluded, St. Bernard residents had turned out in large numbers to make their choices in those key and heavily campaigned races. Emerging from the pack were new Parish President Dave Peralta, Sheriff-elect James Pohlmann, Randy Nunez for Clerk of Court and Jaylynn Bergeron Turner as the new parish Assessor.
Dave Peralta won his race against incumbent Parish President Craig Taffaro by a very narrow margin of only 584 votes.
Peralta and Taffaro, both republican candidates, sparred openly before the October primary at the public forum—as well as through their campaigns—and those campaigns continued until the November 19 runoff.
Peralta had attacked Taffaro’s record, accusing the then Parish President of abuses of his position and power. Taffaro pointed out inconsistencies in Peralta’s record as a police officer and his termination from Taffaro’s own administration.
Taffaro has been Parish President since 2007, and assisted in rebuilding St. Bernard’s infrastructure. Taffaro also has participated in the aftermath of the BP oil spill, working with legislators and negotiating on the parish’s behalf (though there were allegations that Taffaro had profited personally from some of the clean-up efforts). Taffaro took over the position from Junior Rodriguez, who backed Peralta in the election.
After months of campaigning by multiple candidates on many fronts, Sheriff Chief Deputy James Pohlmann has been elected to the position of Sheriff over Councilman-at-Large East Wayne Landry.
“I knew at the end of the day, I’d be graded on the job the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office do in this parish,’’ Pohlmann said following the election. “I believe the grade was an A.”
Pohlmann received a solid 45-percent in the primary election, falling short of the simple majority needed to win outright. Landry had earned just under 30-percent of the primary vote.
In the November runoff, Pohlmann took nearly 60-percent of the vote, which equated to 2,443 more votes than Landry, in a race that drew out more than 51-percent of the Parish’s eligible voting population to the polls.
According to Pohlmann’s campaign, the new Sheriff’s administration will include new practices, such as uniform hiring and promotion procedures, an in-depth analysis of the department’s budget, and a uniform policy for private deputy details.
“We will change the way we do business,” Pohlmann said, “but we will have the same emphasis on stopping crime, and continuing to make St. Bernard the safest parish in the New Orleans area.”
Chad Clark, who took a leave of absence to run against Pohlmann and Landry in the primary, has returned to the office, and will act as part of Pohlmann’s transition team. Pohlmann’s administration has begun preparation for the official changing of the guard to occur July 2012.
Clerk of Court
91-year-old incumbent candidate Lena Torres, who has been working in the Clerk of Court’s office for over seven decades, lost that race to Randy Nunez by more than 2,400 votes.
Torres first took office in 1988 and has served in that capacity ever since.
“We have been through the best of times and worst of times,” Torres said during her campaign. “And we have always managed to keep things running right. We have modernized the office and have put efficiencies in place to do more with fewer resources. Our years of planning and implementation of the latest technologies will allow us to meet all future challenges.”
However, Torres only brought in a little over 40-percent of the 12,572 total votes.
Nunez enters the office as the Clerk of Court prepares their move into the Courthouse square facility in the coming year, and as that office prepares for the 2012 presidential election and newly assigned precinct lines for the parish.
Nunez has said that further technological advancement is required to reduce costs, and can possibly be used to generate revenues, especially as the Parish budget comes under more review.
“If the clerk’s office budget is reduced, I believe the transition to operating under this scenario would be made easier if the proper technological improvements are implemented,” Nunez said. “If all records were digitized and made available online, then [we could] charge a monthly fee… This will create a new stream of income that does not exist at this time…[and] By implementing this new technology you would reduce the cost of maintaining records.”
Jaylynn Bergeron Turner won her bid for assessor overwhelmingly against opponent, Rep. Reed Henderson.
Turner had been a standout of the seven candidates in the primary election, earning 28-percent of the vote, while Henderson and several other candidates split the field, hovering around 15-percent a piece.
In the runoff race, Turner took 63-percent of the vote to Henderson’s 37.
Turner has promised to continue the office’s legacy of fair assessments and recommendations on millages for the parish, to properly generate revenue without burdening landowners.
“First of all, as an employee of the Assessor’s office, I know first-hand about how well this office operates,” Turner said. “Ms. Vinsanau [the current assessor] enjoys a great reputation for efficiency, fairness and professionalism.”
Turner also said that enhanced online access for records and comparative data may be in the office’s future, depending on the price-tag.
“As a state-licensed Realtor, I know the importance of 24/7 accessibility and transparency,” Turner said.
“Creating a website, etc. is very important, however, these improvements carry a price, and I will review the office budget before making specific commitments.”
A new Louisiana constitutional amendment—one which prohibits the legislature from levying any new tax or fee on “immovable property,” after November 30—passed in the November 19 election, which should prevent any proposed real estate transfer tax from being instituted.
The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the prohibitive measure, with 81-percent of the vote in overall Louisiana in favor, including 70-percent of St. Bernard voters.
Certain groups of had been lobbying in support of the amendment.
Malcolm Young, CEO of the Louisiana Realtors, was campaigning in favor of the amendment by pointing out the disincentive any new tax would create for Louisiana’s markets.
“What happened was last year, we started talking to legislators and the Governor,” Young said. “There are 23 states left that do not have an active real estate transfer tax…We felt that was really nonsensical to have one more disincentive for moving to Louisiana.”
Young cited that while the rest of the nation is struggling with 18-20 percent for unfulfilled housing listings, Louisiana is hovering at about seven percent state-wide.
But as Louisiana looked for more ways to raise revenues, the legislature proposed instituting a real estate transfer tax. Young and others fought this move heavily since whispers about the new tax began to surface.
Their fear, Young said, was that this tax could be one more item against Louisiana, especially in the competitive market of convincing businesses or people in relocating.
The measure takes effect on November 30.