Four compete for Gretna City Council seat

For more than two decades, residents living in Gretna Council District 3 have been able to count on two things: speeders flying through the Bellevue subdivision and Councilman Vincent Cox III as their representative.

But with Cox campaigning to be the city’s next mayor, voters will choose a new representative for the first time in 25 years. Four candidates are vying for the position, and they all present different thoughts on where the district needs to go to be successful.

Elaine Molaison Johnson is a new Gretna resident who was added to the city’s population when Gretna annexed the Timberlane Estates subdivision a few years ago. Johnson said she and her neighbors have been disappointed by the level of irresponsible spending in Gretna and the high taxes accompanying that profligacy.

She said she’s running for the council because it’s clear the board needs a member who can put a tighter rein on officials and get them to focus on what’s truly important.

“Instead of fixing the street and the sewer, we get a $6.5 million gymnasium,” Johnson said.

As a former child nutrition supervisor for the Jefferson Parish School System, she said she understands managing personnel and budgets and will make certain that residents are getting true value for the money they spend. She also wants to lower property taxes and eliminate speed cameras.

“I just think I can handle it,” she said.

Milos Valenta claims he’s the best candidate for the position because of his independence and his candor.

Valenta purchased property in Gretna after Katrina and said he was astounded by the red tape he had to wade through to get anything. “It was outrageous, and it almost seemed illegal,” Valenta said.

He said he’s not beholden to the city’s powerful politicians and has pledged to donate half his salary to a nonprofit he is starting.

He claimed some of his opponents have been intimidating residents to secure votes, calling it another sign of deep-rooted problems in Gretna.

“The good ol’ boy network needs to stop,” Valenta said. “I’ve done my research; I know the numbers.”

Rodney Hinrichs wants to be a council member because he believes the board needs a voice that will shout down frivolous projects that don’t truly serve residents.

He mocked Cox’s decision to spend more than $75,000 on installing speed bumps and tables in the Bellevue area and then pulling them up because residents complained. He thinks city officials really don’t understand what residents need.

“We’re just tired of the excessive spending in the city,” Hinrichs said.

He questioned why Gretna completed expensive lighting projects that have only increased the city’s costs, and he wondered why Gretna’s water and sewer rates are so much higher than those for residents of unincorporated Jefferson Parish. Hinrichs said the council needs a member who has his priorities in order. “Stop spending money on feel-good projects,” he said. “Our infrastructure needs to come first.”

Mark Miller says he’s the only candidate who has any real experience with how the city’s budgets and departments operate. Miller is the former recreation superintendent and now manages a flooring store. He said he’s running for office because he believes the council needs someone with experience to help the city progress.

“I have worked in the arena,” Miller said. “I have a feel for how to get things done throughout the city.”

He promised to oppose any new utility rate increases and to use his relationships with politicians to get things accomplished in Gretna. Miller would like to clean up blighted property and look at new guidelines for rental properties.

He said his work as a business manager gives him a good idea of how to manage the city’s finances.

“You have two different ends of the spectrum throughout our district,” he said.