Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Economic development discussions get under way

BY JOHN H. WALKER The Daily News

FRANKLINTON - Washington Parish President M.E. "Toye" Taylor confirmed Monday night he would ask parish council to approve a resolution of support for former bill SB 639.

SB 639, which was pulled last year when a vote of support failed 4-3 over wording that included powers of expropriation in the makeup of the Washington Parish Economic Development Commission it would have created.

But Taylor did a poor job of "playing dumb" when council member Kenneth Wheat told a full house, "I'll vote for it (economic development) as long as the language that created all the uncertainty (expropriation) is taken out. Taking that out will not change or alter a thing ... if there's uncertainty, leave it out."

Taylor then put both arms up in the air, looked at Wheat, who sits closest to him at the council table, and asked, "What's the language? What's questionable?" in what might be described as a sarcastic tone.

"Out of respect for the people," I'll stand my ground," Wheat said, "even against economic development" to a round of applause from the audience.

Wheat was the swing vote last year when the vote of non-support was cast, forcing Taylor to request SB 639 be pulled.

Discussion of economic development was opened by parish resident Winford Pittman, who presented council members and Taylor with a version of an economic development bill remarkably similar to SB 639.

It wasn't, however, a clone.

"There are some differences," Pittman, who was one of a number of vocal opponents of SB 639 said, reading them aloud.

The differences, he said, include the following:

  • The commission would have "no governing power over the parish, only over the property which it has bought."
  • The Washington Parish Council would have "sole authority to grant or deny expropriation for economic development inside the rural boundaries of Washington Parish." Expropriation could only be approved by a unanimous vote of the council after a public hearing.
  • A redirection of monies in the commission's general fund would support road construction, repairs and upkeep of roads the commission requires and would also put money into the school systems.
  • A parish industrial park would be created and include a farmer's co-op.

    During his comments, Taylor pointed out several times that expropriation was a part of the U.S. Constitution - a point he made during the initial arguments a year ago, even to the extent of pulling out a pocket edition of the document and slapping it against his open hand.

    "This commission's not going to take your property. It can't take property unless this council approves it," he said, adding that the argument over expropriation was unfounded.

    Yet, when Wheat said he would support economic development legislation if expropriation were removed, Taylor balked.

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