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Hammond council ready to take on 2021

Hammond City Council will hold its first meeting of 2021 tonight at 5:30 in City Hall’s council chambers.

The council will decide which of its members will lead them for the year by selecting its 2021 president and vice president.

District 2 Councilwoman Carlee Gonzales, who has served as council president for the past two years, does not plan to seek re-nomination by her peers.

“I’m ready to turn it over to someone else who would like a turn leading our council,” she said Monday.

Scooting over at the council table, Gonzales said she is interested in allocating some of the funds surplussed in this year’s budget towards projects the council was unable to accomplish in its last budget.

While city government and its budget have done quite well over the past year during the pandemic, small businesses are obviously struggling.

“Hopefully, we can help support them, increase awareness and make sure people know Hammond is open for business, so we can help,” Gonzales said.

District 1 Councilman Kip Andrews plans to make sure the council stays focused this year on why Hammond voters elected them.

“My goal is to also try to keep the council together on the issues brought out before us at hand,” Andrews said. “I know we are not always going to be on the same page and agree, but our heart is in the right place to make decisions and move the city forward.”

Andrews does not see any challenges for the new year, but he said they will be addressed if they arise.

“I think with the year we had in 2020, we have a few setbacks with different things,” Andrews said. “Overall, the city did strive to move forward, and I’m looking to keep that advancement and keep moving forward with the necessary changes to bring our city to the next level.”

District 3 Councilman Devon Wells said he hopes 2021 will bring more homeownership in the community and the fixing of District 3’s sewer problems, as well as the completion of Mooney Park upgrades and better service from the city for his district.

He expects the investigation of the Hammond Police Department booking room incident to be completed during the year. The incident took place in 2017 before Mayor Pete Panepinto with council approval named Edwin Bergeron as police chief. It became an issue this year with the surfacing of a full video that showed Bergeron and other officers beating with a closed fist, kicking and repeatedly tasing a man who had been handcuffed.

“Hopefully, the chief of police will be gone,” Wells said, adding that he hopes the city can move forward without the “ruckus” Washington, DC, is having.

District 5 Councilman Steven Leon said overall, he wants to see the city progress and wants to prioritize attracting new businesses and jobs.

“I think the council and the city need to certainly work together to keep things moving forward,” Leon said. “We need to help the city grow, help everybody grow.”

“It’s just going to be a challenging year for us to get everything back on track and get over this pandemic,” Leon said.

Iconic bars like Benny’s, Crescent, and Red White and Brew and other places where people sit and visit have been shut down about a year now, he added.

“We’ve got to get through this, and when we do we’ve got to be ready to move forward and get people out and help businesses continue to grow and make sure they don’t shut down,” he said.

Andrews and Leon are eager to learn suggestions come out of the Charter Review Committee, which is reviewing Hammond’s city charter for necessary changes and updates.

Andrews said he looks forward to the sidewalk improvement project, drainage improvements throughout his district, and the completion of two more projects at MLK Park – a parking lot and a memorial wall.

Keeping abandoned lots clean and removing blighted properties will be a priority this year, he added.

Andrews will continue the quarterly neighborhood cleanups. He also plans to launch a community garden in District 1 off Magazine Street by the end of March or start of April.

Gonzales hopes to get the city’s after-school program up and running again and keep recreation open as recovery from COVID-19 occurs.

The city is starting some drainage and sewer improvements in the Iowa District, she said.

She hopes the increase in sales tax that the city experienced over the past year will help with the ongoing challenge of having enough money to stay on top of the infrastructure schedule.

Gonzales is looking forward to setting up public meetings to go over plans for upgrading Zemurray Park using the park’s recently awarded grant money. She plans to follow up on the project to place cameras in parks, particularly in Clark Park for improved safety for Iowa District residents.

In 2021 as part of the 5-year capital improvements plan, city government will also start on the next phase of building sidewalks down Old Covington Highway, she said.

Wells said he hopes the council can work better this year than it did previously.

He hopes there will be “better communication as far as listening to what people want” and issues not becoming personal between him and the mayor, he said.

In terms of council leadership, he said he wants to see more “we” from whomever becomes president.

This year, Leon hopes for completion of the last phase of drainage projects in Whitmar, sidewalk and rehabilitation of the sewers in the University subdivision area, and establishment of street lights along General Jackson where none are now.

District 4 Councilman Sam DiVittorio, reached for comment late Monday, said, “During 2020, we addressed drainage problems in the Pine Hill Forrest, Brandi Lane, and Timberlane. This year I hope to address drainage and sewage issues in the Rosewood area. I also hope to get a pavilion constructing in Jackson Park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Another goal is getting increased police presence in the Rosewood area and Villa West.

“The Housing Committee will also begin meeting and hopefully it come up with some recommendations to help the City work with the Louisiana Housing Corporation and developers so that projects that come to Hammond are done in a way that is beneficial to the neighbors and do not over burden existing infrastructure.”

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Vaccinations available at senior centers

Southeast Community Health Systems has begun giving COVID-19 shots to seniors at Tangipahoa Volunteer Council on Aging’s senior centers.

People from all walks of life – former mayors, pastors, educators and others – got in line last week to get the shot at the Hammond Senior Center.

The vaccinations are available by appointment only. Individuals 70 years of age and older who have not had COVID in the past 90 days are invited to call a local senior center to get an appointment, said council Executive Director Debi Fleming.

Appointments must be made by contacting the senior centers:

Independence Senior Center at (985) 878-4385;

Ponchatoula Senior Center at (985) 386-6061;

Amite Senior Center at (985) 748-7617 and

Kentwood Senior Center at (985) 229-5089.

The schedule for getting the vaccine is today at Independence Senior Center, Thursday in Ponchatoula, Jan. 21 in Amite and Jan. 26 at the Kentwood Senior Center.

Transportation may be available, Fleming said.

Fleming said Southeast Community Health Systems will give 100 shots between 9 a.m. and noon.

“We will keep a waiting list, but no guarantee they will return for a second event,” she said. “Medicare cards and ID cards must be presented before the shot is given.”

She said the council is very grateful to Southeast Community Health Systems for offering this vital service to the older members of the community.

City court offers amnesty

City Court of Hammond is holding a warrant amnesty program for people with outstanding warrants.

Through Feb. 28, the Court will let defendants with outstanding warrants pay their charges without fear of arrest.

"If you appear in person during the amnesty period on a charge, you will not be arrested," said Judge Grace Gasaway.

The City Court of Hammond is located at 303 E. Thomas St., Hammond.

Payments of fines and court costs can be made by cash, money order, cashier’s check, and debit/credit cards between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. No personal checks will be accepted.

In the event you are unable to pay fines and court costs by Feb. 28, the Court still urges you to come into the Clerk’s Office no later than Feb. 28 to address your outstanding warrant(s).

The public can search for outstanding warrants and attachments at www.citycourt.org.

Please call 985-542-3455 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday for more information.

Some people have outstanding warrants for their arrest because they have overlooked a court date, court officials said.

Regardless of the reason for the outstanding warrant, failure to clear one's record and resolve any outstanding warrants may create further consequences. The Court urges all eligible persons with warrants to take advantage of this program.

Elizabeth Pickering

Elizabeth Pickering of Amite predicts that when Drew Brees retires, he will be remembered as “a guy that a football team didn’t want because of his injury he had.”

“But the Saints wanted him,” she said “Mr. Tom Benson saw he was the man for the Saints. And Sean Payton knew he was the one to lead are team to the victory.”

Pickering is confident Brees will lead his team to the Super Bowl again.

“He’s a kind and gentle man. He loves New Orleans and brought so much to our city. He’ll help anyone in need. That’s how we’ll want to remember him – our quarterback of a life-time.”