Carla Bourgeois Weidenboerner
Marshal candidates field questions at the Teche
A forum for the candidates of the ongoing Third Ward Court Marshal’s race was held Tuesday evening at the Teche Theatre.
All three candidates, Interim Third Ward Court Marshal Corey L, Burgess, Carla Bourgeois Weidenboerner and Rogers Washington were in attendance and participated in the hour-long event, presented by the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce and the St. Mary Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The forum took the form of a question-answer interchange between the moderator, Reginald Weary, the three candidates and the audience, who were encouraged to participate.
It consisted of five rounds of pre-arranged questions asked of the candidates in random order, the answers to which were prepared. After a candidate was asked a question, they had three minutes to deliver their response. After the response, the other two candidates could challenge the response with 30-second counters, if they so chose. Following a challenge, the rebutted candidate was then allotted 30 seconds to defend themselves. These rounds were to be intermingled with three rounds of rapid-fire questions from the audience, presented in written form, and each candidate was to answer in 30 seconds or less.
The forum opened with a prayer from St. Mary Councilmember Reverend Craig A. Mathews, followed by opening remarks from the candidates, allotted five minutes each.
Burgess began his opening remarks by giving a brief personal and professional history in which he specified having been appointed to his post by former Marshal David J. McCoy. “I’ll be honest with you guys,” said Burgess, “I never thought about being marshal, at that time. I was just focused on being chief deputy and working for (then) Marshal McCoy. However, through circumstances with his health, it had been of the quality that he was advised that he had to retire. It came as a shock to me, as well as the public. He trusted in me to appoint me as the interim marshal, and it’s been an awesome experience. It’s been one of the greatest things I’ve done with my life.”
Weidenboerner began her opening remarks with a quote. “Someone once said, ‘It’s not about what you do on Sunday,’” Weidenboerner said. “It’s about who you are, Monday through Saturday.’”
She gave a brief history of her personal and professional life. She then said, of her law enforcement career-long tenure with the Franklin Police Department, “To the citizens of Franklin, I’d like to say, thank you, because I couldn’t have done it without you. In good times and bad times, you gave me the inspiration and the courage to do my job.” Weidenboerner then spoke of her inspiration to run for marshal, saying, “People continue to call on me, years after leaving the eepartment, and that is the very thing that influenced my decision to run for marshal.”
The last of the three candidates to give opening remarks, was Rogers Washington. Like the other two candidates before him, Washington provided a synopsized history of his personal and professional lives. He closed with, “I’ve been patrolling these streets for over 40 years. I would like to continue to serve in your communities, touch lives, help people and further my growth in law enforcement.” He then thanked the parish COC and the parish chapter of the NAACP for presenting the forum.
The first of the form questions went to Burgess. Weary asked, “Many believe the police cannot function effectively without community relationships, trust, cooperation and a shared sense of responsibility for public safety. What steps will you take to build effective community relationships throughout your area?”
Burgess answered, “Community relationships with the public are very important. At the marshal’s office we handle them in some matters.
“We get a variety of people who come through the office every day with unique problems. Sometimes these problems cannot be solved by the police department or the sheriff’s office, so they come to us, and we try to do the best we can do. So, when you are building trust and cooperation and you are helping to solve problems; that’s great.
“If I’m out and about, and I have time to do something, especially if I’ve helped them out in the past, I always make it my business to stop in and check on them. It’s just being out there in the community. You have to be there, at all times. And being in the marshal’s office, that is the number one job we have, is being able to communicate with the public, and know you are leading them. So, that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I’ll continue to be doing.”
Weidenboerner was next to answer the question, and she said, “If I’m elected marshal, my steps would be: First of all, I would start off with proper training. I would have an ‘open door’ policy to accommodate the public. It would depend on the caseload on a day to day basis. And in doing that, say for example, if someone needed to meet with me, and it was after hours and not during regular business hours, I would accommodate that person and try to do what I can to meet with them. And I would be there during the daytime, as well, when I could be, and again, it depends on the caseload.
“I would open avenues to the public, and other law enforcement agencies in the area, for the wellbeing of the community, for the well-being of public safety.”
Washington’s turn to answer the question was last, and he said, “The marshal’s job cannot be done without the deeds of the community. The community is the ears and eyes for a lot of folks. I’ll bring them to my tent: the church, the educators, the senior citizen, that we owe, to get knowledge from them, in every aspect of the justice system, Franklin PD, the sheriff’s cepartment, the DA’s office. We also need the support of the vendors’ community. A person once said, ‘Don’t forget to follow your expert advice. Most important is to listen. God gave you two ears, and one mouth. You should do less talking, and more listening.’ I think that’s good advice. I will listen to you.”
The next question asked by Weary, was asked of Weidenboerner. “Can you explain the role of the position you are seeking in this election, and how it pertains to city and parish government?”
Weidenboerner replied, “To me, the marshal should organize and motivate the people working for him, in carrying out their daily duties, which includes enforcing all the rulings and mandates of the court. Also, included in these but not limited to, is overseeing the serving of subpoenas, evictions, traffic enforcement, executing warrants, transporting prisoners, etc.
“The city’s and the parish government’s officials will hold the marshal responsible for the quality of the department’s performance. Therefore, with rules in place, employees will be held accountable for what they do, and for what they don’t do.”
Washington’s reply came next. He said, “Like in all public agencies over the parish, the most important challenge is attaining adequate funding for the office. Everything starts with the ability to secure adequate funding, the monies to operate your office, equipment, vests and proper units to patrol by.
“Secondly, the ongoing challenge is to work hard every day and to make sure our office is trained, and with leadership necessary to make sure that the Third Ward Court should operate in a professional law enforcement capacity. That would start on day one.
“Thirdly, officer support and police should conduct themselves in a manner that makes the community proud and safe. We must do our job to protect the community in a manner of respect for everyone, and treat everyone fairly and equally.”
Lastly to answer was Burgess. He said, “Well, other than the usual duties of the marshal, which are: mandating everything that comes down from the city courts, working the garnishment program, convictions, and any other civil matter that may come to our door, the most important role of the marshal’s is to play a big role in the community, and it has been that way for many, many years. The marshals of the past, which, to name a few, Mr. McCoy, Mr. Willie Rack, Mr. McDaniel, they worked very hard to build that office into what it is, and people expect the same ‘open door’ policies and traditions that there was. So, that is one of the main things.
“Sometimes, you get people who come in and want you to do things that don’t necessarily pertain to the marshal’s office. But, one thing you can’t do is turn people away and tell them, ‘That’s not our job. That’s not what we do here.’
“I would say that I worked with one of the best. The marshal that I worked under always did whatever he could do to go over and beyond, and I would ask of my chief deputy to do the same things. Yesterday, I had to take a vacation day because I had a lot of last minute stuff that I had to take care of, and every time I went to the office, he said, ‘Look, this is what happened. This person came by. I handled it and this is the way it was taken care of.’ And that’s exactly… he did it the way I would do it. So, we’re very proud of these individuals (looking to his co-candidates), and of all in these departments, I am the youngest individual to ever seek this office, and I look forward to doing a lot more things with this office if I’m the next marshal.”
Weary addressed the next question, a “rapid-fire question” from the audience, to Wahington. The question was, “What issues would you like to resolve, and how would you manage accomplishment in this regard?”
Washington answered, “I want to make the citizens of our community proud of the marshal’s office, and I know I cannot do that effectively without the cooperation of the community, including the faith-based organizations, the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office, the Franklin Police Department and the city administrators. When we work together as one, we can come together to get a lot accomplished. But, when we work out-of-agency, not working together, nothing can be accomplished. I can bring everyone together.”
Burgess here offered the only rebuttal of the forum to Washington. “Well, I believe that the marshal’s office is something to be proud of, already. I think that for someone to say that it’s something we need to be proud of, that would just be saying that the people of the past (previous marshals) did all this tirelessly hard work for nothing. So, what I want to say is that I will continue to do the hard work and good deeds of the office, to keep it up to what it is.”
Weidenboerner gave her answer to same question with, “Procurement of up-to-date needed, essential equipment is what I want to work on, such as, body armor, dash cameras, audio recorders and evidence collecting equipment, etc. I would like to meet with the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Department training section to discuss a training program. I would like to focus on the reserves, and show my appreciation by outfitting them with updated equipment, and giving them updated and proper training.”
Weary next stated, “Now, as you all know, a big topic over the last couple of years, as far as police brutality, has been the police issues throughout the (nation’s) communities. My next question kind of goes back to the beginning, to the first question, and Ms. Carla, we’ll start with you. Community policing is a collaboration between the police and the community that requires all the elements of the community. Do you think you will implement such a program, and if so, what would it entail?”
Weidenboerner answered, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it until I saw the question.
“Years back, at Franklin Police Department, we had a community policing program in place. I am a firm believer in community policing. It works. It’s a valuable tool. At some point, I would like to get with the police chief and the sheriff, to work with them in educating the public in crime prevention techniques, assessing problem areas and engaging with the public, where learning would be two-sided. I would also like to be involved in Neighborhood Watch with local agencies, and I also feel and know that that is very effective. So, yes I am interested in Neighborhood Watch and community policing.”
Burgess took his turn to tackle the question, by stating, “Community policing, as we all know, is when the community and the police can come together, build a very good, strong foundation together, and work together. Like I was saying earlier, it’s not just about whenever they need us to come take care of the issues they have at the time. It’s to just be out and about, to be there whenever they need you.
“One of the things I like to take part in, is anything in the community. I’ve done a lot of joint ventures with Community Action, and if anything is going on at Chez Hope, I’m always there.”
Washington was next, and he said, “Like I mentioned earlier, effective law enforcement must involve the entire community. I would be willing to continue to be visible, and present in the community. I would talk with you, listen to you and in leading and understanding good leadership, seek advice and listen to advice. Every day that I wear the marshal’s badge, I would remember myself, that I’m up there to make families safe and proud of the marshal’s office.”
The next rapid-fire question was, “One of the many challenges I have observed of the marshal’s office, has been limited resources, specifically, funding to maintain the various functions of the office. What would you do to enhance the efficiency of the marshal’s office, and are there alternate resources that you have identified which you aim to manage in order to fulfill this office?”
First to answer was Weidenboerner. She said, “I believe that there is a lot of work to be done, and I think that if we get out there and do it, we will get the cooperation of the city, and the parish governments. We would be putting in, and what we need, we would be getting back. I think that whatever we put in, we would get back. I think it is just that simple. You know, there is a lot of work to get done, and we need to get it done.”
Next to answer was Washington. He said, “I feel like Ms. Carla does. If we just do the job that we are running for, and just get out there and do it. I think that it will take care of itself.”
Burgess answered lastly. He said, “The marshal’s office is not exempt from the oil field crisis that we are going through. Every different department, right now is going through a lot of different crises. The last solution we should come up with is the parish council and the city council, and I don’t really have time to go into it at this forum, but I am actively working on different avenues of bringing in more revenue.”
Weary switched gears after the last rapid-fire question, and reverted back to the question pool. His next question came from the pre-planned program. He asked the question of Burgess, “What are the three most important challenges facing the marshal’s office, and how would you deal with them?”
Burgess answered, “The first issue is the public knowing exactly what job you do as a marshal. Recently, I realized while I was out on the campaign trail, talking to all the different people, that they were gravely misguided on what it is we actually do. So, I was very fortunate to get to sit and talk to a lot of different people, and explain to them exactly what it is that the marshal’s office does. Because, I didn’t want them out there getting the wrong idea that we are not doing our jobs, because we are not doing what they think we should be doing, you know?
“One of the issues was our bills, and that goes down to funding. We just don’t have a lot of tax revenue coming down through our little town. So, for the marshal’s part, I did talk to the parish council, and we did ask for some assistance. Which, they did. They allocated $6,000. However, we do get $5,000 per year for vehicle maintenance, and they may have been a little upset with me last year, because I did my own thing. What I did was, I took all of that money that was currently available, and I fixed up what I had.
“The third issue, is like I said, is the revenue that is coming in to the office. One example of that is I’ve been from Houma to Lafayette talking to different rent-to-own companies that sell to different merchants and sells to different people in our ward and in our area. They’re having a tough time recouping their money and getting their property back. So, I personally went, myself, and talked to every one of them to let them know that the marshal’s office is here to help them, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help them out. Not only is that going to bring in revenue for the marshal’s office, but it’s going to bring in revenue for the Third Ward City Court, because people will have to come in and pay monies for the judgement and from there, we can get people their property back. It’s going to be about $130 per judgement, if they have to do it. Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you just go to one rental company, if you go to Conn’s, in Lafayette, and they’ve got about 25 cases, well, you do the math. That’s just one store. So, that is one example of what I intend to do to increase revenue without having to resort to going to the city council or the parish council, because they’re not in the best of shape to be helping us, either.”
Next to answer was Washington. He said, “The way I would tackle funding, is get with the grant writer, because there are grants out there for support. This goes back to when I said don’t be too proud to ask for advice. Other than that, you go to the city, and you go out and do your job. There’s adequate enough funds there, if you will take care of that (the job).”
Weidenboerner concluded the answers to the question. She said, “I feel that the working relationship with local law enforcement can be improved. The marshal’s office has fiscal needs, and we have the ability to take care of those needs by going out and executing warrants, serving civil and criminal papers and other civil and criminal matters, which would self-generate money to this department.
“We would try to mend the public’s trust, and by doing so, we would simply do our jobs.
“We would get more actively and publicly involved with the local law enforcement.”
Next, Weary asked another rapid-fire question: “What do you feel the role of the office is in regards to and as concerns people with mental health and drug related problems of people who require care and hospitalization instead of incarceration?”
This question was posed to Washington, who answered, “I have sources that will get them the help that they need. We can get them evaluated, for starters, to make sure that they need this help. There are programs out there to take people off of drugs, or a lot of times it’s not drugs, but it’s a mental thing that they inherit. So, we would work together and find the resources to handle that particular case.”
Next to answer was Weidenboerner. She said, “I agree, and I also believe that in a lot of cases, people don’t need to be incarcerated when they have mental issues, drinking or drug abuse. Everybody has a story, and those stories sometimes lead to that. I think it’s our responsibility and our duty to try to help people to get a grip on those things vs. incarceration. If it comes to that (incarceration), then we have to do our job, too.”
Lastly to answer was Burgess. He said, “A lot of folks may not be aware that our ex-governor cut a lot of funding out for mental health. The result was a lot of mental health hospitals being shut down, and services that were needed, and that left us all out in the cold. He left them out in the cold because they had nowhere else to turn, and he left us (law enforcement) out in the cold because we didn’t know what to do in those situations. The best thing I can say is, when you see someone (suffering from mental health or chemical dependency issues) just show them as much compassion as you can. Do as much as you can. Make the necessary phone calls. It’s not guaranteed that it’s going to help or that it’s going to be effective. But, all you can do is show a little compassion and hope for the best.”
The last question asked, was asked to Washington, first. The question was, “What would be your leadership style, and how would it affect citizens and governments?”
Wahington answered, “Leadership begins and ends by example. I’ve been in law enforcement for over 40 years. I would train, and use my nine years of experience with the DA’s office to educate, train and monitor the officers in my employ. We need a strong leader in the community who believes public service is to become part of the community, whether they are on-duty, or off-duty.”
Next to answer was Burgess. He said, “My leadership skills are quite simple. When it comes to the department, I have a lot of former guys who are in my reserves. I’ve got a retired police chief. I’ve got guys who were in the military police, and I’ve even got guys who are just retired workers from the workforce. Everybody has something to bring to the table. It doesn’t matter what part of life they came from. They may not have been in law enforcement, but they can always bring something to you, to help you do your job.
“It’s always important to listen, and not always be talking. It’s always important to listen.”
Weidenboerner answered lastly. She said, “According to research, leadership style is the way a person uses power to lead. During my years at Franklin Police Department, I lead by example. I wouldn’t ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do. Therefore, the employee will know what is expected. The citizens will see the examples that are being set.
“My style will be accomplished through transparency. All of us in the marshal’s office will be held accountable for what we do, and for what we don’t do. That’s all we can ask.”
The remainder of the forum belonged to closing statements, and the public was reminded to vote Saturday for their Third Ward Court Marshal, between the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at local polling stations.