Minutes after taking the oath of office as parish president, Larry Cochran assured a packed Edward Dufresne Community Center that his efforts will focus on hurricane protection, flood insurance rates, tax revenue, growing the economy and a fiscally responsible government for St. Charles Parish.
“On my watch I want to assure you that I will always keep in mind that it is the people’s money being spent,” Cochran said. “I will always ask the question ‘What is best for St. Charles Parish?’”
Cochran, who had served as District 5 councilman and council chairman, was sworn in along with the council at Sunday’s inaugural ceremony.
In his first comments to the public as parish president, he outlined his goals for his administration saying hurricane protection for Montz and the West Bank was a top priority.
“We will continue working to achieve a basic level of hurricane protection on the West Bank, however, we must and we will work with our state and federal officials to make 100-year flood protection our ultimate goal,” he said. “No other parish could afford to build their levees without state and federal financial support and the citizens of St. Charles Parish can’t afford it either.”
Cochran said his efforts would stay focused on repealing what he called “the devastating, outrageous and unaffordable flood insurance rates” of the federal Biggert-Waters Act of 2012. He also focused on the need to regain recognition of the parish’s existing levees and flood controls on FEMA flood insurance maps.
Cochran later emphasized his first priority coming into office is, “Levee. Levee. Levee,” taking hard aim at building the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.
Continued monitoring of changes to proposed tax exemptions by the state Legislature is also necessary, he said.
“Recent proposals to exempt inventory from property taxes would be devastating to parish government agencies losing over $23 million in revenue per year,” Cochran said of the Legislature cutting the inventory tax credit by 25 percent last year.
As part of keeping parish government fiscally responsible, he added, “We must be ever mindful of our revenue and its volatility in a changing economy. A culture of excellent public service and transparency is demanded.”
As part of making government more user friendly, Cochran said technology would allow streamlining public services such as permit and licensing for citizens and business.
Maintaining the parish’s quality of life is key, he said, a goal he wants to advance by ensuring a diversified and balanced economy with good paying jobs and opportunities for youths. He said this also means keeping the parish’s strong industrial employment base viable.
Cochran also praised the parish’s “A” rated public school system, Sheriff’s Office providing safe communities, district attorney’s office and judges preserving the safety and well being of citizens along with quality health care, emergency services, recreation and public library system as all contributing to quality of life that makes the parish a good place to live and raise a family.
The importance of open-door government came from observing former Parish President [Albert] Laque during Cochran’s more than 27 years as a volunteer firefighter in St. Rose.
“It was during [Hurricane] Katrina that I spent many hours in the EOC and I was able to see Parish President Laque perform his duties under immense pressure,” he said. “He exemplified true leadership and our parish recovered quickly. That experience taught me a lot about leadership and helped to inspire me to serve both as a councilman and now as parish president.”
A tearful Cochran also thanked the support of his family for his being able to run for parish president.
“Public service does not come without personal sacrifice. I know that over the past eight years and, to an even greater extent over the next four years, our lives will be under public scrutiny,” he said.
Cochran also said he was focused on getting staff organized and acclimated, as well as improving communication between the council and parish president’s office.
“I want to focus on enhancing communication at all levels of parish government with customer service being a priority,” he said. “As a government we provide an array of services, benefiting both citizens and employees.”
At Sunday’s inaugural ceremony, three council incumbents were sworn into office: Julia Fisher-Perrier, District 7; Terrell Wilson, District 1, and Traci Fletcher, District 6. Four council incumbents returned in new seats: Cochran, parish president; Wendy Benedetto, councilwoman at-large Division A; Paul Hogan, councilman at-large Division B, and William “Billy” Woodruff, councilman District 4.
Council newcomers are Mary Clulee, District 2; Dick Gibbs, District 3, and Marilyn Bellock, District 5.
At Monday’s council organizational meeting, Benedetto was voted council chairwoman and Fisher-Perrier, vice chairwoman.