Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte reflects on tenure
MORGAN CITY, La. — On Jan. 14, the City of Morgan City will have a new mayor, something that has only happened once since Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte first took office in 1993. Matte has served a total of four terms or 16 years as mayor, first from 1993 to 2000 and then from 2005 to the present.
“I’m looking forward to the life of John Q. Citizen. However, it doesn’t include crawling under a rock or anything along those lines,” Matte said. “I will be active, and I will be participating in the community.” Matte plans to return to practicing accounting full time and to stay involved in areas such as the Atchafalaya Basin, local river and flooding issues and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, he said.
Matte said it is “highly unlikely” he would run for mayor or any other political office again. “Whether or not there’s another office out there … you never say never, but there’s not anything on the list.”
Matte will also be available to help the mayor if he asks for help, he said.
“There’s a lot of advice I could give, but I think I’ll take the approach of making myself available and willing to share whatever. But I’m going to let the new mayor ask,” Matte said.
Developing a relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is “like job No. 1” for the mayor, Matte said. The transition period for the new mayor will probably be the shortest the city’s ever had because of the runoff election, Matte said.
Mayor-elect Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi, who has been attending city council meetings regularly for the past year, said he has been impressed by how knowledgeable Matte is on local and state issues. “He’s been unbelievably kind to me,” Grizzaffi said.
Matte, 55, remembers what city government was like when he first took office as mayor. “Coming into office in ’93 … in some cases it was almost easier because the answer was no for pretty much anything. We just couldn’t afford to do hardly anything. City government was still adjusting to the revenues it was going to have after having had some times where the revenues were much stronger.”
The city has experienced some good financial times as well as some bad financial times, Matte said.
Our local economy’s been like a roller coaster. It’s very much cyclical and very much geared toward that offshore oil and gas business, so mixed in there with some very good years were some tough years,” Matte said.
Prior to becoming mayor, Matte served as a city councilman for five and a half years beginning in 1987.
“The times were a good bit different. In ’87 we were really coming off some difficult times as far as the economy is concerned. But everybody still had in their memory some pretty significant boom times.”
He said he first ran for city council because he thought he maybe had something to add to the community. “Every other election has been motivated for the same reason, hey, maybe I can make Morgan City a little better place. And, hopefully, that’s what I’ve accomplished. That’s certainly what I’ve tried to do,” Matte said.
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, met Matte back in the late 1980s when Matte was a city councilman and Jones was mayor of Franklin. “We just developed a quick friendship,” Jones said. Through the years, Jones has worked on numerous road projects and the two worked together to get funding to spray for mosquitoes during the West Nile outbreak several years ago, he said.
“His ability to reason through a problem and find a solution has been virtually perfect,” Jones said. “I think Morgan City is going to miss him.”
City Councilman and Mayor Pro-tem Larry Bergeron has worked with Matte in two different capacities as a councilman and as chief administrative officer for the city.
“He’s very confident. He’s learned a lot,” Bergeron said. Matte especially learned a lot about the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association in his time as mayor, Bergeron said.
“He never was in a hurry to do anything, kind of a laid back guy,” Bergeron said. “He never made drastic moves without thinking it through.”
Matte gave his take on the mayor’s main responsibility.
“The overriding job for the mayor is to set a vision for the community and to help to steer the community in a particular direction. And that’s a collective vision,” he said.
The parish’s unemployment rate has been one of Matte’s big frustrations as mayor, he said. “St. Mary Parish, particularly, has had a higher than average unemployment rate when you look around the surrounding communities. We’ve got want ads with people looking for skilled labor.”
The problem is, from talking to some employers, is that much jobs require that the person pass a skill test, physical and drug test, Matte said. Some people can pass one or two of the tests but not the third test, he said.
St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin shared his thoughts on Matte’s time in office. “Tim Matte was very, very proud of his city,” Naquin said. “I hate to see him leave (as mayor). You haven’t seen the last of him.”
Naquin expects Matte to stay active in the community after his term ends, Naquin said.
During his administration Matte has tried to “bring ourselves (as a community) back to the (Atchafalaya) River,” Matte said. Following the 1973 flood, the city was focused on building levees to protect the community from flooding, he said. “We, in effect, walled off the river from, to some extent, our conscious,” Matte explained. “Believe me, there are a lot of communities that would kill to have a river like the Atchafalaya River passing through their community because it is such a great resource.”
Matte expressed his gratitude for the city council members he worked with. “In my case, I’ve been very blessed with councils who have been very supportive and always pulled in the same direction … not that we all agreed, but we always, I think, were pulling in the same direction as far as the community is concerned.”
Matte explained what being mayor of Morgan City has meant to him on a personal level.
“One of the great pleasures I’ve had is people thank me for things that the city did without me even knowing that we did it because the city employees are out there doing the best job that they can and often go above and beyond,” he said.