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.”