Wendy Benedetto’s time as a council member officially ended Tuesday, effectively ending over 12 years of representing the people of St. Charles Parish.
“In 2007, I qualified to run for the council because it was what I wanted to do for my community,” Benedetto wrote in her Aug. 18 resignation letter. “I am resigning because it is what I need to do for my family.”
After spending years volunteering at parish schools, on PTA boards, in parish recreation and with the booster club, Benedetto said it was an open council seat in the 2007 election that piqued her interest.
“I thought, ‘Maybe this is my next step … maybe now I can help and make a difference,’ and so I gave it a shot,” she said. “I said ‘yes’ and I ran and I won.”
Her first year on the council is among her most fond council memories.
“It was all new people,” she said. “It was a new parish president and every council member was new and we all bonded together and grew together and learned together. There were no chiefs – it was all Indians.”
While initial goals included making an impact on parish recreation, drainage and hurricane flood protection, Benedetto said there are many other projects she is extremely proud of.
Guardrails put up on Airline Highway after an accident claimed the life of one family’s four children, for example, was an emotional victory.
“That was huge,” she said. “I wasn’t the only one who did that, but I was a part of it.”
Other important work done during her terms was the completion of the East Bank Levee and financing and construction of the West Bank Flood Protection System.
“In 2013, St. Charles Parish led the fight to save the National Flood Insurance Program and ultimately passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, allowing our residents affordable flood insurance rates,” she said of another victory. “We came together and did the unheard of, passing a bipartisan bill through Congress.”
Then there is the Dunleith Stabilization Project, which aided people who live on the Dunleith Canal and were losing their backyards to erosion. Benedetto said she worked to budget the project each year for 12 years because of the high cost of the project – a similar strategy she used on Ormond field.
Benedetto was elected to two terms as the District III council member before being elected to two terms as the At-Large council member for Division A.
While each election cycle presented unique challenges, Benedetto said her last was the most special.
“The last time I ran I was unopposed and that to me that meant I truly had the trust of the community,” she said. “I felt like that was a victory to me because I finally gained the ones to trust me that hadn’t trusted me before.”
Benedetto’s work ethic and attention to detail have not gone unnoticed by other council members.
“I have served with Wendy longer than any other councilman and I’m so thankful we had almost 8 years together,” Councilwoman for District VII Julia Fisher-Perrier said. “Wendy worked tirelessly for the people of the parish and sacrificed so much. She has a drive and determination to be admired.”
Former council member Marcus Lambert agreed.
“The commitment and passion she gives to her public and private capacities is admirable,” he said. “She was elected several times because these qualities have allowed her to complete many long-sought projects for her constituents.”
Senator Gary Smith said Benedetto has been a valuable and effective public servant.
“It has been my pleasure to work with Wendy to make St. Charles Parish a great place to live, work and play,” he said. “It is also an honor to call her my friend.”
Benedetto said the successes of the council job were contrasted by the valleys – her least favorite parts which included having to deny certain occupational and residential zoning requests.
“In our parish it’s harder than people think, because you’re a part-time council person doing a full-time job,” she said. “Being elected to a local government is different than any other office. We’re close to the people … people we work with, friends, neighbors, relatives … you see them in the grocery stores and you have to own up…you’re responsible because you’re the voice of the people and knowing you have to look people in the face – you have to do the right thing.”
Benedetto said being the voice of the people included people thinking she was responsible for things completely out of her control.
“People assume you’re the answer for everything – from garbage can pickups to dead animals in the street,” she said laughing. “It does take a lot of time, but at the end of the day it was about helping people and I love helping people. There was a lot of good done in those 12 years, but there was a lot of good done in the 12 years before that and there will be a lot of good done in the next 12. I know I am replaceable.”
Benedetto said she is anticipating a slower pace of life, which will allow her to spend more time with her family.
“When I lay my head down at night, I can say I’ve done the right thing for the people in St. Charles Parish,” she said. “What I did in my 12 years was for the residents. I worked for them and I fought for them and I hope what I did will benefit generations to come.”
And while she is looking forward to spending more time with her family, Benedetto said she intends to stay informed and aware of everything going on in her community and with local government.
“I am not closing out my campaign account,” she said. “It’s going to stay available. I don’t know what the future holds for me. Let’s just say that it’s in the blood …I love my parish.”