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|Police jury fields charges of racial bias|
Suggestions of racial bias surfaced during the Franklin Parish Police Jury meeting last Thursday, as a group of Wisner residents turned out to voice their concerns that little has been done to address raw sewage seeping into the ditches of their neighborhood.
Franklin juror Jackie Johnson questioned why the jury has failed to take action on the deteriorating conditions in Washington subdivision, particularly why other jurors were opposed to granting Washington subdivision a sewer district.
"It looks as though we're denying people the right to, based on something other than mere facts," Johnson told jurors. "It looks to me like it might be racially motivated and, being racially motivated, it endangers the parish as a whole."
Johnson said if race was a factor in the jury's decisions concerning Washington subdivision, it could place millions of dollars in federal funding in jeopardy.
"I hope that I'm wrong," Johnson said. "I hope this is not a ball game, or a game that we're playing with each other, because if it is, we're playing with people's lives, with people's health."
The Washington subdivision is attached to a privately owned sewer system.
The system has fallen into disrepair in recent years and the system's owner, Ledell Heckard, has previously expressed a willingness to sell the system to the police jury for $1.
Jurors were poised to act on Aug. 11, but concerns arose about whether the jury would be able to afford the cost of bringing the system up to date.
Other possible suggestions have included forming a sewer district and allowing Washington subdivision to begin levying taxes to pay for the system, or forming a non-profit corporation and seeking grants.
Johnson said he wanted something done about the system as quickly as possible.
While forming a non-profit corporation would be a possibility, Johnson said such a move "takes considerable time" and time is something the residents of Washington subdivision do not have.
"A sewage district could take place immediately, with the jury forming a board," Johnson said. "This is something that could happen now."
Juror Ray Young shot down the notion of forming a new sewer district because he said that made the jury ultimately responsible for anything the district couldn't pay.
Young said he sympathized with the residents, but the problems with their sewer system ultimately were not the jury's problems.
Young also pointed out the jury already owns three sewer systems and "doesn't need another one."
Johnson countered by pointing out Young lives in a home attached to one of those publicly owned sewer systems. Also, Johnson said rental properties owned by Young are on public sewers.
"What you are trying to deny these people of, you are enjoying the privileges of," Johnson said.
Jurors attempted no final resolution of the issue and instead suggested waiting until attorneys could sort out the possibility of forming a non-profit corporation.
That report is due at the jury's next regular meeting next month.