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Former mayor Ragusa indicted

By LAUREN LANGLOIS staffwriter@hammondstar.com

Michael Ragusa, former mayor of Independence, has been indicted by the Tangipahoa Parish Grand Jury with one count of malfeasance in office, according to District Attorney Scott M. Perrilloux.

Issued Monday, the indictment stems from allegations set out in audits performed by the Louisiana Legislative Auditors and subsequently investigated by the state attorney general's office related to Ragusa's failure to pay into the state retirement system. Ragusa left the town with a $900,000 debt after refusing to pay the town's retirement share for its employees.

Judge Charlotte Foster accepted the report of the grand jury and set Ragusa's bond at $5,000.

His arraignment will be scheduled once he is booked and bonded, Perrilloux said in a statement issued Monday. As of 8 p.m. Monday, he had not yet been booked.

Ragusa served as mayor from 2008 to 2016.

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Hammond City Council members will consider putting up signs to discourage giving to panhandlers.

Councilman Jason Hood put the resolution on tonight's agenda. He has been pursuing the idea a while and previously proposed it. He hopes a resolution will move the idea forward. The administration would need to direct the streets department to buy and install the signs, he said.

He sent a sample of an anti-panhandling sign to fellow council members. The sample sign states, "Say no to panhandling. Contribute to the solution. Give to local charities."

At the center of the sign is an image of someone handing over money with a line struck through the illustration.

Hood envisions putting these signs strategically around the city, including by interstate entrances and exits and by businesses where he has regularly seen panhandlers. He estimates it would take less than $1,000 to buy and install the signs.

Panhandling has become more of an issue for the city compared to previous years, Hood said. He believes the signs will help combat panhandling.

He does not anticipate the signs willl cause a legal issue. In St. Tammany Parish, Slidell officials tried to require a permit to panhandle in the city, only later to have the law struck down as unconstitutional.

In a previous presentation about how the police handle panhandling complaints, Police Chief James Stewart said police officers do not arrest someone solely for begging on a public street but can arrest a panhandler who is impeding traffic, trespassing, threatening people or committing other offenses.

Also on the agenda for tonight's council meeting is the project to make improvements to the bridge on Club Deluxe Road that crosses Arnold's Creek. One resolution calls for transferring $80,000 from surplus funds to the project. Another resolution would award the contract for the bridge project to Beverly Construction Co. for $133,450.

Members will consider approving the submission of the full application for a $2,085,000 loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to fund the expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant on CM Fagan Drive. The city plans to expand the plant by building another pond to increase water retention and treatment on the site.

Members will consider approving the selling of alcohol at Your Mom's Restaurant and Bar's new location, 205 E. Thomas St. The restaurant is moving from its original location on East Morris Avenue.

The council will meet for the public hearing at 5:30 p.m., followed by the council meeting at the council chambers at 312 E. Charles St.