By LUKE BRITT/Editor
Dewayne Ramsey opened the May 2 meeting of the Union Parish Policy Jury Road Committee with a prayer that the jurors act as “good stewards” of the people’s business, but what followed was a reminder that not all prayer is answered as quickly or in the manner we would like.
For the better part of an hour Ramsey attempted to lead by example, repeatedly reminding his fellow jurors that they were putting the parish in legal jeopardy and, at one point, admonishing them for discussing actions that might very well be illegal.
The topic, of course, was the fate of Buffalo Landing Road, a stretch of clay and dirt that most Union Parish folk had never heard of before attorney Johnny Dollar asked the Police Jury to abandon the little used road that crosses his property.
The jury voted in April to reject Dollar’s request, putting the attorney in a position of either accepting that he cannot control who comes and goes on his property or taking the jury to court.
Dollar’s position is that the road serves no meaningful public purpose, has not been maintained and that the five jurors who rejected his request were guided by a long-standing dislike of the successful attorney and real estate developer.
The jurors who oppose Dollar’s request deny this, saying they are concerned for the right of people to access Bayou DeLoutre. The jurors have also said they fear that if they grant Dollar’s request the Policy Jury will be inundated by similar requests from other property owners.
At first blush, both arguments sound like reasonable positions, but they don’t stand up to much scrutiny. After dealing for years with people who use the isolated spot to party, mud-hog and hunt without permission, Dollar installed video cameras so he could monitor activity in the area. Not only did the cameras capture trespassers doing all the things trespassers do, they revealed how very few people actually use the spot to go fishing.
For the record, Dollar said that once he gains control over the road, he will place a combination lock on the gate and provide responsible people the combination. Those who disrespect other peoples’ property should find somewhere else to ply that trade, he said.
The other argument – that the jury will be overwhelmed by similar requests should they grant this one – doesn’t hold water either. First, the laws that allow property owners to take control of a public road that crosses their property have existed for years, and if the idea appealed to many people, the aforementioned flood of requests would already be a reality. Furthermore, for three years Dollar’s request has languished while the jury abandoned 14 other roads. That’s 14 times the jury did not seem particularly concerned about being flooded with abandonment requests.
During the past week The Gazette has polled several public officials for their opinion on the issue, people who have known those involved far longer than I. To a person they said there is no doubt that the feud is entirely personal and rooted in long-standing grudges, some of which are decades old. They used words like petty, childish and wasteful. And those were the kinder remarks.
But here’s the thing. In the short time I’ve been able to observe this jury I have been, at times, quite impressed with their diligence and caution when doing the people’s work. I have covered public bodies for more than three decades and can assure the people of Union Parish that some of these jurors are as sharp as any I have seen.
Unfortunately, this suggests that there is something unseen at work here. For some reason, these ordinarily reasonable men have decided to be entirely unreasonable on this issue.
That’s what makes the Buffalo Landing Road flap so disheartening. These are not bad people, but if they cannot set aside their personal grudges when doing the people’s work they are, by definition, bad public servants.