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Candidates talk Livingston Parish President's race

Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 9:59pm

UPDATED: Monday, November 21, 2011 - 4:26pm

Livingston is one of the fastest growing parishes in the state, and that’s why residents want the right person to be in charge.

With just days until a decision is made in the race for parish president, both candidates say they’re the best guy for the job.

Mike Grimmer is running for a third term. He says he’s done a lot for Livingston Parish in his first two terms as parish president.

“I want people to look back to 2004, and see where we’ve come and where are today,” he says. “I want them to look at who has been in the region that has stood up for Livingston Parish when everyone’s trying to run us over.”

Grimmer has been at the forefront of development in the parish, bringing new jobs and businesses to the area. If re-elected, he says that will continue to be a top priority.

“Let’s make it easier for the people in the parish. Let’s make it more convenient. Let’s build movie theaters. Let’s build something that keeps our parish tax dollars here.”

Layton Ricks has been involved in Livingston Parish politics for years, and recently, he’s started to realize that the parish needed a change.

“I will do everything to possible to reach across the board, to mend the fences, to stop the fight, to move this parish forward,” he says, “progressing, but progressing responsibly.”

Ricks says he wants to better the roads, focus on parish finances, and make himself available to everyone living in this area.

“People expect open accessibility and accountability in a parish president,” he says. “We’ve pledged to do that.”

Ricks says communication with the council members is something else he really wants to work on. He says lately, Mike Grimmer has been butting heads with some of the other Livingston Parish decision-makers.

“You have to be able to communicate with your council. You have to be able to communicate with federal and state officials to move projects forward. We’re excited about the opportunity to be able to do that.”

Grimmer says the tension between himself and the council is part of the business.

“They like to brand it as fighting, and there’s a difference between going along and getting along. I don’t go along with a lot of issues that I think are wrong,” he explains. “Some call it fighting. Mr. Ricks calls it fighting. I like to call it doing your job.”

One of the biggest issues facing the parish right now deals with the cleanup efforts after Hurricane Gustav.

You may recall, after the storm, contractors began removing debris throughout the parish in 2008. The idea was that all those contractors would be reimbursed for their work. However, residents said some companies were removing debris in areas that weren’t even affected by Gustav.

Mike Grimmer ordered all the businesses to stop the cleanup efforts because parish officials were worried that FEMA wouldn’t foot the bill. As expected, FEMA ruled that millions of dollars in debris removal were ineligible for federal reimbursement.

Layton Ricks works for Alvin Fairburn & Associates, one of the companies contracted to monitor the storm cleanup. That company still hasn’t received more than $40 million in reimbursement. Mike Grimmer has gone on the record saying that Ricks wants to be the parish president, so that he can get the parish to pay his company the money that FEMA won’t.

Ricks says he has no reason to do that. “Do I get anything out of this? Well, no. I don’t get a dime out of it,” he says. “I am a paid employee of Alvin Fairburn. I’m paid every week like most employees are.

“I didn’t orchestrate it. I did not manage it. I was aware of it. I did sit in on some meetings. I did work as a project coordinator on the debris issue.”

Instead, Ricks says the company, and the contractors, haven’t been paid because Mike Grimmer didn’t’ sign off on the paperwork that would have gotten the company reimbursed.

“The initial PW that was sent to Grimmer had been approved by FEMA,” Ricks says. “That should have been signed by Mike Grimmer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t on the job. He wasn’t doing his job, and he didn’t know whether to sign or not, so he just chose not to sign, and basically threw a kink in the whole operation.”

Grimmer tells a different story.

“[FEMA] needed my signature which verified that the information was true, and come audit time, they would be able to provide the documents,” he explains. “Now, the documents are in the monitors’ hands. Unfortunately, the monitors, which are part of Alvin Fairburn’s group and Mr. Ricks’ group, they have not been able to produce the documents to produce those payments.”

Grimmer says by not signing, he actually saved the parish money. “By me not signing off all blind-eyed and dewy, we don’t owe that money back. If they can produce the documents, we can get contractors paid, but as of today, they’ve not been able to do that for FEMA.”
Right now, the parish is in the process of appealing FEMA’s decision to hold out on those funds. Ricks says if elected, he’ll handle that situation to the best of his ability.

“If it says that we owe such and such money, we’ll work with the federal government to see how we go about paying that money. How do we get forgiveness for some of that debt? We will have to get legal representation and we will have to follow that,” he says.

Grimmer says he also has plans to tackle the problem.

“We’re going to push that to get documents produced, and if we can’t then we’re not going to get paid and we’re not going to pay anyone, but the good news is that at the end of the day the parish is not going to get stuck with that bill,” Grimmer says.

Both men confident that they have what it takes to do what’s best for their parish, but only one can walk away with the job on Saturday.

“I think I do my job well,” Grimmer says. “I enjoy what I do for the people of this parish.”

“I would just like the people to vote for me to give the opportunity to serve them,” says Ricks.

The election is this Saturday. Polls are open all day long until 8pm. NBC33 will be out in Livingston Parish Saturday night to bring you the latest on this election.

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