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The Daily Review/Bill Decker
Dean Adams will continue to serve as St. Mary Parish Council chairman, and Gwendolyn Hidalgo will serve as vice chairwoman after votes at Tuesday's meeting in Franklin.

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Parish Council members J Ina, left, and Craig Mathews voted Wednesday against the election of Dean Adams as council chairman and Gwendolyn Hidalgo as vice chairwoman. Ina and Mathews say the posts should be open to any council member rather than limited to at-large council members as the current charter dictates.

The Daily Review/Bill Decker

Adams, Hidalgo take Parish Council leadership posts

FRANKLIN — The St. Mary Parish Council took up its first piece of business for the new year Wednesday, electing a chairman and vice chairman for 2021. And it didn’t happen without a touch of controversy.
The council also heard about efforts to get a National Estuarine Research Reserve in St. Mary and a report from the Port of Morgan City director. The council also voted to provide $20,000 in funding for police equipment in Baldwin.
The council voted to keep Dean Adams of Morgan City as chairman and to name Gwendolyn Hidalgo of Morgan City as vice chairwoman. Hidalgo will succeed Dr. Kristi Prejeant Rink.
Two members voted against the appointment of Adams and Hidalgo. J Ina of Franklin and the Rev. Craig Mathews of Jeanerette cited what they see as a structural problem in the parish home rule charter.
Eight members of the 11-member council are elected from geographic districts. The other three are elected at large in separate parishwide races.
The charter says the chairman and vice chairman must be at-large members, each of whom has a parishwide constituency.
That was the focus of Ina’s objection.
“It’s not personal,” Ina said after the meeting. “It’s a matter of perception. …
“We’ve got a lot of people who are capable. We need more inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. I don’t think at-large members are any more capable than anyone else.”
Ina noted that the 2019 election resulted in the election of three first-time council members from at-large districts: Adams, Rink and Hidalgo. So the council’s leadership was limited to members with no previous experience on the council.
A September attempt to ask voters for a charter amendment opening the leadership positions to any council member drew seven votes but failed because the charter requires a super majority of eight votes.
During Wednesday’s meeting, when Adams was nominated for the chairmanship, Mathews made a motion that legal counsel Eric Duplantis said was inappropriate because of the charter provision limiting leadership roles to at-large members.
“Thank you, Sir,” Mathews said. “I just wanted to get that on the record.”
Ina and Mathews cast no votes on the nominations of Adams and Hidalgo.
“I consider all of you to be my friends,” Mathews said at one point. “But my stance is not based on friendship.”
Also Wednesday:
—The council voted to give $20,000 to the Baldwin Police Department after a request relayed by Mathews.
Baldwin’s town government has been plagued by financial problems affecting its water system as well as police protection.
A letter from Baldwin Assistant Police Chief Samuel Wise III said the department has a list of projects that include training for officers, uniforms and badges, buying or leasing police vehicles, repairing police vehicles, repairing flooring, installing a door and a security lock, repairing a water leak, installing a building camera system, buying body cameras, and updating the computer system.
—Port of Morgan City Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade reported on port progress in the last year.
A dredging project in Berwick Bay helped businesses function along the Morgan City riverfront, Wade said. A state Department of Transportation and Development grant paid for 90% of the work needed to improve the port site leased by InterMoor, which employs 100 people.
The Brice Civil Constructors dredge, an experimental vessel designed to deal with sticky “fluff” mud, is proving to be a success in improving the bar channel between Eugene Island and sea buoy. And a $16 million Corps of Engineers dredging project targeting sediment between Crewboat Cut and Eugene Island will probably begin in March.
Wade said a prolonged period of low water may be coming to an end. High water in the Red and Ouachita rivers is headed downstream, and the Corps is predicting a crest of 5.8 feet in the Atchafalaya at Morgan City within the next few weeks.
—The council approved a resolution in favor of designating a National Estuarine Research Reserve in St. Mary Parish.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration runs the NERR program. Reserves in coastal areas where rivers meet salt water offer research, tourism and educational opportunities. Louisiana is the only Gulf Coast state without a reserve.
The reserves can be located on either private or public land. NOAA pays for 70% of the operational expenses, and the states provide the staffing. State land use and environmental rules continue to apply.
Seven broad zones in which a reserve might be located have been identified along Louisiana’s coast. One of those zones is the Atchafalaya.
St. Mary Excel, the group advocating for a St. Mary reserve site, plans a 9:30 a.m. Jan. 22 meeting at Morgan City Municipal Auditorium. NOAA and state representatives will explain the NERR concept.
At Wednesday’s meeting, St. Mary Excel’s Margaret Theriot and Kelly Lin Boudreaux outlined the potential benefits: tourism dollars, new hiking and bike trails, educational opportunities for students and a possible interpretive center focusing on the area’s ecology.
“It will allow us to tell the story of our land,” Boudreaux said.
—The council approved a resolution of respect for Frank Cali Sr. who died Jan. 2. Cali served as a justice of the peace for more than 40 years.
—The council agreed to have a four-way stop sign placed at the Jupiter-Belleview intersection at Bayou Vista.
—The council approved the appointments of Paige Voisin to the Kemper Williams Park Advisory Committee and Carrie Stansbury to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Commission.

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