Column: Is it time for change to the Lincoln Parish Police Jury?

by Malcolm Butler

As qualifying began yesterday for the upcoming political races across the state of Louisiana, candidates in our area code — both incumbents and challengers — began to officially register at the Lincoln Parish Court House.

Many Lincoln Parish residents’ eyes are squarely focused on the races that are developing for the 12 district seats on the Lincoln Parish Police Jury. Or at least they should be. I know mine are.

And rightly so.

After the roller coaster ride the current makeup of the police jury took our parish on in 2022 and even into the beginning of 2023, many voters have expressed a desire to see some changes in certain districts. And if I am being honest, I am one of those.

I am relatively new to following the police jury and other local government entities as closely as I have over the past two years, this correlating to when I became a co-Publisher for the Lincoln Parish Journal. However, it didn’t take long to see there was a woeful lack of transparency in regards to a number of important topics.

And I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say some personal agendas.

Fire, ambulance and rescue was arguably the most important topic during 2022 while the vote to not re-appoint former LPPJ Administrator Doug Postel was another. I won’t spend a lot of bandwidth in this column rehashing details as plenty has been already written about, but I will provide some links to some previous stories on the two topics.

My advice to voters is to read them and others and to educate yourself on how your police juror voted on these two topics. Maybe you agree with them. Maybe you don’t. But arm yourself with an educated knowledge of those two subject matters and others.

During the last eight to 12 months plenty of voices openly expressed disappointment, shock and anger with how the LPPJ operated as a unit. It sure wasn’t smoothly or as a cohesive unit. And at times it was downright negligent.

Again, one man’s opinion.

But this is one man who sat in almost every single Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Committee meeting on a weekly basis for months as well as every police jury meeting during the volatile stretch. I had no preconceived notion when I started going to those meetings. I was a blank slate.

I talked to a lot of the parties one on one, trying to educate myself. What wasn’t I seeing or understanding. Because as I listened to more and more of the information being discussed, it became evident to me that there was only one clear, safe choice for the immediate future of Lincoln Parish.

It’s one thing to have another opinion. We all have plenty of those, and they don’t always sit simpatico.

It’s another thing to listen to financial figures and to human manpower numbers and to equipment discrepancies and to the comments of health care experts and fire department experts — and I could go on and on — and yet still vote against what was the one overwhelming clear choice that would best save lives and protect the families in Lincoln Parish.

Seven of the 12 jurors ultimately voted for the City of Ruston proposal, thus for the immediate safety of our parish and its residents.

(Read the October 12, 2022, story about the ambulance, fire and rescue vote by the LPPJ by clicking HERE.)

For the record: Those who voted for City of Ruston Ambulance and Fire proposal were: TJ Cranford (District 4), Logan Hunt (District 5), Glenn Scriber (District 6), Matt Pullin (District 7), Skip Russell (District 8), Joe Henderson (District 9), and Annette Straughter (District 12).

Those who voted against the City of Ruston Ambulance and Fire proposal were: Theresa Wyatt (District 1), Hazel Hunter (District 2), Richard Durrett (District 3), Milton Melton (District 10), and Sharyon Mayfield (District 11).

(Sidebar: One day in the near future I hope the Lincoln Parish Fire District is funded and equipped to be able to handle the full load of these responsibilities outside of the city of Ruston, but based on the information available back in September of 2022, they simply weren’t. And it would have been dangerous and unfair to task them with a load they weren’t ready to handle.)

And then there was the Doug Postel soap opera. Daytime TV was jealous of that drama. It started with cloak and dagger close-door meetings where resignations were asked for and it ended months later with eight members of the current Lincoln Parish Police Jury voting NO to his reappointment. An upopular vote that came with no transparent reason.

(Read the Sept. 8, 2022 story and letter from 4 jurors in regards to Postel being asked to resign under “allegations” by clicking HERE.)

It came despite a very vocal, very one-sided showing of support by parish residents in Postel’s favor prior to the vote in the January police jury meeting. Those who were there and who witnessed it are still talking about that night.

Every police juror has the right to vote their mind. And committee’s aren’t always going to vote unanimously. But the ability to hear your constituents, and then communicate to those same constituents is a must, especially on a local level.

When you don’t, you simply pave the road for your replacement in the next election. I believe there was a lot of asphalt laid down by some of the jurors over the past year.

Eight of them voted against Postel, and none of them would provide much — if any — reason. Some hid behind “it’s an HR matter.” Some just hid. They simply stayed silent despite being questioned that night by their fellow police jurors who voted in favor of Postel’s reappointment.

(Read Scott Boatright’s story from the January, 2023 LPPJ meeting by clicking HERE.)

For the record: Those who voted in favor of reappointing Postel were: TJ Cranford (District 4), Logan Hunt (District 5), Glenn Scriber (District 6) and Matt Pullin (District 7)

Those who voted against reappointing Postel were: Theresa Wyatt (District 1), Hazel Hunter (District 2), Richard Durrett (District 3), Skip Russell (District 8), Joe Henderson (District 9), Milton Melton (District 10), Sharyon Mayfield (District 11) and Annette Straughter (District 12)

There is a big part of me that believes many of the jurors thought this would blow over and be forgotten about by the time October elections rolled around. However, based on “Flip the Jury” signs around the parish and the amount of chatter I have heard from residents recently, I don’t think people have forgotten.

I sure haven’t.

So in October when the time comes for registered voters in Lincoln Parish to cast their vote for their district seat, my hope is they are well-informed when they step into the voting booth. My hope is they use their vote to break the silence. My hope is they demand transparency, and that they make a change if they feel one is needed.

In my opinion it’s time to have a police jury that doesn’t hide behind, “No comment.”