On March 20 parish voters will head to the polls for a special parish-wide election aimed at filling the Division A Council-at-Large seat Wendy Benedetto vacated in August.
Beth Billings, Dick Gibbs and Joe Larre – each a Destrehan resident and each a Republican – are vying for the spot.
And while qualifications, motivation and priority issues vary among the contenders, each candidate was clear in why they are uniquely and perfectly suited for the seat.
“One of our highest and best duties as humans is to take what is given to us and return it in better condition than how we originally received it,” Billings said. “Many opportunities were offered to my family by the parish, and now that my daughters are grown it is time to give back to St. Charles in gratitude. I have the energy, time, experience and passion for St. Charles and to help the parish move towards a better tomorrow.”
Billings said drainage improvements, greater zoning flexibility and maximized recreational opportunities are the main issues she’d work on as part of the council if elected.
“Drainage is far and away the biggest issue facing St. Charles Parish. I have undertaken a deep study of the flooding issues in our parish by touring the levees, culverts, ditches and pumping stations on the east and west banks over the past several months with knowledgeable, educated community members and government leaders to get a better understanding of the depth of the flooding issues,” she said. “Second, I will work to put St. Charles Parish on a firmer financial footing by moving toward greater zoning flexibility to allow for profitable development, business success and a broader tax base. We should be showcasing our parish to attract other businesses and industries that are being shut out of other states.”
Third, Billings said, the parish should be looking for ways to maximize the value of its existing 44 parks and recreational areas.
“We should implement an incremental and affordable approach to expanding and improving children and adults’ recreational activities without losing focus on our highest priority drainage issues,” she said.
Billings has served in various Republican party positions of leadership, including as a 2020 Louisiana Presidential Elector and on the St. Charles Parish Board of Elections Supervisors. She is a past president of the Republican Women of St. Charles Parish, and is a current member of the Rotary Club of St. Charles and the St. Charles Women’s Club.
“I am a strong conservative Republican,” Billings said. “I am pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-business. I believe a smaller government is a better government. I am pro-liberty, pro-free speech, pro-individualism and pro-self-reliance.”
Gibbs is currently serving in his first year of his second term as the District 3 councilman.
“When I decided to run for the St. Charles Parish council 6 years ago, I felt called to serve my neighbors, family and friends,” he said. “My focus was on the issues of District 3 after the first election. I knew they were not easily solved, but I was passionate about St. Charles Parish and prepared for the long haul. While there is still work to do in District 3, I now realize that my extensive experience and leadership in parish government and local efforts are underserving the people of the entire parish. Issues such as drainage, hurricane protection and recreation are parish-wide issues and deserve someone who has experience.”
Gibbs said while it has been an pleasure to serve his district, he’d be honored to serve the entire parish with same passion he’s put forth for his district in the past five years.
“My life-long leadership, disciple and dedication led me to run for the at-large spot,” he said.
Drainage, levee flood protection and recreation are the three top items he’d prioritize if elected, Gibbs said, adding there are plenty of reasons he loves living in St. Charles Parish.
“The Parish of Plenty, although a term originating from our forefathers, still rings true,” he said. “St. Charles Parish is rich with resources, a vibrant economy, a workforce, great public schools, a great hospital and safe neighborhoods. The folks who came before me laid strong groundwork which attracted people here. Generations of families have laid their roots here and have blossomed. I chose to raise my family here so they would have the opportunity to succeed.”
Gibbs is currently on the Regional Planning Commission representing St. Charles Parish.
“Our homes, our businesses and children are the most important assets we have,” he said. “We would only hire an experience sitter to take care of our children. We would only hire experienced contractors to repair and build our properties. My proven track record can speak for itself and I have the experience and leadership needed to help protect what we have and repair what is broken.”
Larre said he is the best candidate for the council seat because, among other things, he is experienced in law and ordinance litigation.
“I am strong minded in my beliefs and upbringings but always open to listen, think outside of the box to solve and help wherever I can,” he said. “I decided to run so that residents, like myself, that are not members of the St. Charles Parish political family circle of trust could finally have an independent, transparent and fresh voice on the council.”
Larre said he moved to the parish from New Orleans 11 years ago with his family for many reasons, including better schools, recreation and overall community life.
“Like most, I have had personal problems and complaints with the government upkeep of drainage, dangerous traffic in the neighborhood, garbage, recycling, most of the recreation facilities … as well as the boat launches we launch our boats for business and pleasure, that have gone unanswered for way too long,” he said. “There is a major disconnect between our government leaders and our residents that I believe I have the knowledge, experience and desire to fix. That is why I decided to run for council at large … simply for change.”
Larre said there are three main issues he’d address if elected – technology, flooding and recreation.
“I want to establish a checks and balance system with the newest technology available and not outdate websites and phone systems … so that we the residents are not blindsided again by government failure to maintain our drainage system, roads, basic utilities, wasteful spending, children and animal wellbeing and overall community life,” he said. “I also want to establish a specific system of checks and balance, once the proposed master flood plan is released from the independent engineering firms later this year, to ensure failures of the approved plan and wasteful spending does not happen like they did in, 1995, 2009 and recent flooding.”
Larre said he is the only candidate with flood litigation experience that dealt with engineers and failure of government that caused damage to its residents.
As his third priority, Larre said he would update recreational fields “to turf for our children to excel at all sports and not have to travel for better recreation in phases as not to raise taxes.”
Larre, who called himself a constitutionalist and advocate for people and animal rights, said he is a19-year youth football, basketball and baseball coach.