Rick Franzo and his new parish group are an interesting bunch.
That’s what comes to mind when I think about them.
For those of you who don’t know, Franzo is the new president for the Concerned Citizens of Lacombe (CCL), a group that is getting increasing attention since forming a little over a year ago.
CCL sprung up due to a situation in Lacombe that upset many people, including Franzo and his friends who live in that area.
The St. Tammany Parish Council approved a permit for a company to build a waste transfer station right at the Interstate 12 exit for Lacombe, on Highway 434.
There is a 20-acre piece of land on the southwest side of the interstate, and even though many Lacombe residents see that as prime commercial real estate that one day will become major development, the garbage company had purchased the land after going through all the proper steps to obtain permits for their transfer station.
Even though the company made it clear the garbage would only be brought there, then transferred to bigger trucks, before being taken to a landfill far away, Franzo and other Lacombe residents were outraged that the Parish Council had approved the site to handle garbage.
Franzo’s contention is that the residents of Lacombe fully see that area as the entrance to their small community, and would expect to see attractive commercial businesses all around the interstate interchange—not a garbage site. No knock against the garbage company, they said, but it doesn’t matter how nice they fix up their perimeter, it is still a garbage station of some kind.
When Franzo and others began to hear about the permit being approved for the garbage company, it led to good old “community activism.” A handful of residents began to ask questions, show up at meetings, and voice their opinion against the site, albeit a little late to change things.
Feeling like they had not been fully informed of what was going on in their own backyard, Franzo and others formed CCL. The group has obtained an attorney to work with them, and have gotten active very quickly. Not only are they showing up at every meeting that has to do with parish government, but they have filed suit against the parish. That matter, which questions the validity of the permit, is awaiting a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, CCL is expanding. At a January meeting, the group announced they are starting “Concerned Citizens” of Slidell, Pearl River, Mandeville, Covington and other smaller communities.
Many of the group members originated in the recent “Tea Party” movement, which has simply been residents like you or I, who are fed up with the way government seems to be going, and are finally saying “enough!” They are getting active within the system, and trying to make sure their voice is heard.
Whether you like what CCL is saying or not, you have to admire them for becoming so involved, and trying to let public officials know they are being closely watched. Now that the group has formed other community links around the parish, you will be seeing representatives at virtually every public meeting of any kind.
While the Lacombe situation continues to simmer, and perhaps have a compromise being worked on between CCL and the garbage company, the organization made more big news last week on the front page of The Slidell Independent.
Franzo confirmed the group is beginning to organize a petition drive parish-wide, that seeks 35,000 signatures. They will ask registered voters to sign the petition so they can bring a minimum of three issues before the public for a vote.
CCL wants to reduce the size of the Parish Council from 14 current members to only half of that—five district members and two At-Large members—for a total of seven,
The group also wants term limits approved for the Parish Council, and they are asking for an Inspector General, an independent watchdog who would have access to all records and documents to review, if needed.
Some people may think CCL is simply pushing its opinion down the throat of everyone, but I believe it is old-time activism that is sorely needed across the entire country.
I’m not saying that I agree with CCL or not on the issues they are bringing up, but I have to admire the time and effort being put into the group, and the fact they have made many top public officials stand up and notice. It has to have many officials realizing that anything they do now will be broadcast for everyone to see and hear.
I have personally been so disappointed to see the lack of public interest in our governmental system. It is reflected in the pathetic number of people who vote. Most Americans simply accept the fact that our officials are truly doing what is best for us, and yet, even I wouldn’t say that is always true.
When you look at the situation in Lacombe, with officials there agreeing that it would be OK to put a garbage station at a prime commercial real estate site, it certainly makes you wonder what they saw as the future for Lacombe.
CCL thinks that fewer council members will create an atmosphere that will consider the entire parish, as opposed to council members focusing on their own district. In their minds, that is a better scenario.
Ultimately, even if they obtain the signatures to put the matter on the ballot, it will make the public decide. And as Parish President Pat Brister told me, “that is the way it should be.”
I agree with that. But I am also glad to see any group of individuals becoming active in our political process, and making sure public officials know they are being watched.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org