ST. FRANCISVILLE — Questions posed Thursday to candidates seeking West Feliciana Parish’s newest political office suggest parish residents are concerned about revitalizing the local economy.
Kevin Couhig, John Kean, Tom McVea and Lea Williams face off in an Oct. 19 election for parish president, an office authorized by a home-rule charter that voters approved in November.
The four met in a well-attended forum sponsored by the Greater St. Francisville Chamber of Commerce.
Couhig said the first step in attracting new business and industry is announcing to the world that the parish is open to economic development. The current concept in the outside business world is that West Feliciana is a beautiful area, he said, “but we don’t want business here.”
Parish leaders must say that new businesses are welcome, “but you have to follow the rules,” said Couhig, who ran state economic development in the 1980s.
Kean said the parish has started getting an economic development program underway, but the District 5 police juror said he has seen examples of a “lack of cohesiveness in our whole system here.”
Kean said he wants to create a concept of “oneness” to generate a synergy that will bring in more sales tax revenue.
McVea, a former police juror and legislator, ran through a list of steps he said he took to boost the parish’s economy, from building and operating a nursing home to saving Rosedown Plantation home as a state historic site.
McVea said statements about the local economy have been “gloom and doom, but I guess my glass is half-full.” He said the parish Economic Development Board, of which he is a member, has come up with a plan to grow the economy, but implementing the plan will take a concerted effort with the public also involved.
Williams, a police juror, agreed the Economic Development Board is doing a good job and said she thinks the business world is well aware that West Feliciana is open for business.
A comprehensive development plan for the parish is nearing completion, Williams said, but she said the area needs more shopping areas that can attract small businesses.
Questioned about the home-rule charter, Kean said he initially opposed it, but he said he would work with the parish council to implement it if he is elected. The jury will serve as the council when the president takes office.
McVea said the charter is “the law of the land,” but has glitches: four single-member council districts and one at-large council member instead of the Police Jury’s seven single-member districts.
The charter excludes a town of St. Francisville representative and someone from the Tourist Commission, which “makes no sense,” McVea said.
Williams said she is concerned about the decrease in elective districts and Economic Development Board exclusions, but she said the problems can be resolved by a vote of the people.
Couhig said he supported the charter because he believes the parish president is needed to speak on the parish’s behalf.
He said five council districts could open the parish to expensive litigation, but he said he does not understand why the Police Jury spent months arguing about whether the parish should have a charter after the voters approved it.