With a mix of incumbents and challengers, candidates at the Amite “Meet and Greet” forum in the Community Center on Tuesday discussed the current challenges facing the town and how to come up with solutions for future success.
Current interim mayor Walter Daniels, who has taken over for the late Buddy Bel, cited several projects that are in the works and said he is seeking re-election to see them through.
“Under my leadership, along with the city council, we opened up a savings account for the city and that’s something that hasn’t been done before,” he said.
The savings account helps the city be fiscally responsible, he said, and he has personally been conservative with funds. He also said he has been working with the council on the Mulberry Street Extension project and working on getting a new water system in Tycer Park and he wants to be in office to finish those projects.
Ricky Ardillo, also running for mayor, said he can offer an ability to make comprehensive budgets, a skill he has acquired while working in the oil industry since 1994. He is a proponent of attracting businesses that can bring jobs to Amite and he said better infrastructure can be a result of a more prosperous community.
Jerry Trabona is not seeking re-election as police chief and is instead running for mayor. Trabona said that to fix traffic in town, he believes Mulberry and Oak Streets should be converted into one-way streets. He also advocated installation of a frontage road from Walmart on Hwy. 16 to the Florida Parishes Arena on Hwy. 51. He criticized the current city non-action towards maintenance saying that he has noticed unused equipment and clogged culverts leading towards flooding.
For Chief of Police, Lendrick Francios was unable to attend the forum because he is in quarantine related to COVID-19. Patrick Murphy, who is also running for chief, spoke of the need to end pork spending and said he would enforce hiring more qualified people for certain positions.
In the District 1 council race, incumbent Kris Hart spoke about wanting to return to current infrastructure projects in motion at City Hall. He spoke of the need for a new DMV building and said it should be a leading facility in the parish. Challenger Raymond Brown said he has been a town employee for eight or nine years and now wants to give back to the community. Brown called for more resources for parks and single mothers and a curfew for juveniles under 18 in an effort to stop juvenile crime. A third candidate, Kabaka Johnson, said he had the opportunity to move out of Amite after playing high school football and receiving an education at Grambling State. Now that he has returned, he wants to share his insight for structural change and apply it to town policy.
The wife of the late Mayor Buddy Bel, Claire Bel, is running in District 3. She cited the need to create fiscal budgets and explore all options to find the money for town resources and better parks. Tangipahoa Parish School System Athletic Director Mark Vining is also running in the district and said he believes more revenue can be brought into Amite and the town should promote an SLU to Amite pipeline, attracting graduates who are young homebuyers establishing a family. Incumbent Emmanuel Zanders III did not attend due to a work conflict.
For District 4, Neil Currier made the case of how his experience in private business qualified him for office. Damon Ellzey did not attend.
Incumbent Rose Sumerall made her case for re-election in District 5 by saying improving infrastructure is a priority for Amite and she has made great in-roads with the council. She said Amite will go through rapid changes in the coming years and the town needs to be prepared. Challenger Heather Howell was unable to attend due to COVID-19 quarantine.
One candidate for 21st district judge, William Dykes, stopped by the event to address the crowd of between 30-40 people. He noted that he has lived in all three parishes of the judicial district, Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa, and understands the issues of all three. He said drug-related charges is a major issue in the district and unique sentencing should be put in place. Colt Fore, also a candidate for judge, had planned to attend but was not able to make an appearance due to conflict with a prior event.