China trip travelers disputed in Terrebonne

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Disagreement regarding participation in an international economic partnership feasibility trip to China left members of the Terrebonne Parish Council divided last Wednesday.

With an 8 to 2 vote, discussion on requested support of Councilwoman Christa Duplantis being part of a delegation traveling on June 15-22 to Weihai, China, was carried over for further discussion when her interest in financing part of the trip was questioned by her elected counterparts.

Councilwoman Beryl Amedee was first to target the matter that was listed on the agenda simply as a meeting notice with reference to the China trip and dates, but no specifics.

“I really do not understand what this is about,” Amedee said. “I don’t have a problem using [part of the budget] for this trip, but this was not initiated by the council, but it was initiated by TEDA.”

Duplantis wanted to make used of her apportionment of $2,500 in travel money for council members to help defray costs associated with travel.

“I was asked to go [by TEDA],” she said. “It would be a great opportunity, [but] the only reason I want to go is because others did not want to go. I think [objections] are about a little more than money. I’m going to try to get funding, but it is a shame that I have to.”

Councilman Danny Babin said he was under the impression that state funds were available for the China trip. He questioned why parish officials would be requested to foot the bill.

“It was my understanding that the Louisiana Economic Development was looking for people to [finance],” Babin said. “If we want someone from this council to go I believe TEDA should pay for that person to go. I’m just against the council paying for the trip.”

“I was wondering if the Seafood Promotion Board or anyone notified shrimpers to see if any of them would like to attend?” asked Councilman Dirk Guidry. “I’m just asking that we have someone from the seafood industry go to come back and tell us that side.”

Separate from the council meeting, TEDA CEO Steve Vassallo said that direct invitations were given to shrimpers, but no offers have been accepted.

“We had a special meeting and invited shrimpers and they were there,” Vassallo said. “We still want them to go. We always wanted them to go. It is a long way to China and some people just don’t like to travel that great of a distance.”

Vassallo confirmed that state funds are available through LED to assist in international travel for commerce purposes. “They want people to use that grant money,” he said. “If they don’t it goes back to the [federal government].”

More than cash concerns, some council members questioned Duplantis being among the delegation when, during an April council meeting, it was recommended that council members not be on the travel list.

Chairwoman Arlanda Williams had suggested that elected officials leave those spots open to local business representatives – specifically shrimpers – that might want to make the trip. Since then she has modified her opinion.

“There are benefits to having someone from this council go and bring back information for everyone concerned,” Williams said. “Ms. Duplantis would speak well on our behalf. Shrimp is not the only industry we have.”

“Many foreign cultures like it when an elected official is present,” Vassallo said. “It represents a voice of authority to them.”

“I just think we need more information,” Babin said. “TEDA is the organization in this parish that promotes economic development. We want to foster economic development. But as I remember they came before us about the China trip and not 10 days later they had something about Mexico. I would like to see us finish one thing and not just jump from one thing to another.”

Vassallo confirmed that TEDA officials are talking to representatives from multiple nations about foreign trade with Terrebonne Parish. “You catch more fish with a wider net,” he said.

Only Duplantis and Councilwoman Arlanda Williams voted in opposition to carrying over an endorsement. Councilman Russell “Red” Hornsby was absent and not available to cast a vote.

Earlier in the evening the entire council applauded a joint appreciation presentation jointly by Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet and St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin regarding their mutual efforts in hosting the Louisiana Police Jury Association convention at the Houma-Terrebonne civic Center in February.

Council members expressed the need to explore cooperative efforts with other government bodies and expand their networking capabilities.