Lafourche votes down renaming library

An act of love
April 5, 2017
A Houma Times column about times past
April 5, 2017
An act of love
April 5, 2017
A Houma Times column about times past
April 5, 2017

What’s in a name? For the Lafourche Parish Council, a name can entail the sticky situation of properly honoring a former member.

The Lafourche Parish Council voted down an ordinance, introduced by District 9 Council Member Daniel Lorraine, to rename the parish library in Gheens after longtime District 6 Council Member Lindel Toups, who died last year. The council voted 3-5-1, with Lorraine, James Bourgeois and Jerry Jones approving the measure and Michael Gros absent from the meeting.

The vote signaled the challenge in assessing Toups’s legacy, highlighted by dedicated service and charity to the community, particularly in his native Gheens, and a brusque and combative style resulting in downright offensive speech. The council had to measure the interests of the citizens wishing to honor their longtime council member, the library board’s own wishes and the optics of the controversial vote.

Multiple residents of Gheens were at the meeting to speak in favor of renaming the library. They all cited the long record of fighting for his hometown that Toups showed over his 20 years of representing District 6. Theresa Peters said the library was a fitting memorial for Toups, saying he was integral to bringing the library there.

“If it were not for Mr. Toups, there would be no library in Gheens,” Peters said.

Bourgeois noted the lack of capital projects that go to Gheens, a small, close-knit community in central Lafourche Parish, and praised Toups’s ability to represent his constituents and the parish.

“I know a lot of people back there, I have a lot of friends in the area, and there’s just not that many projects that go back of Gheens,” Bourgeois said. “This is the first one since the passing of Lindel, and I think it’s appropriate that we name something in his honor. He was a great man who served the people of Lafourche Parish very well.”

However, the renaming of a library sparks up recent conflicts with the parish’s library board and controversies Toups made for himself. Council Member Armand Autin said the library board vehemently opposed renaming the building after Toups. That opposition could in part be related to Toups’s handling of an issue in 2013, when he advocated rededicating some of the library system’s property tax revenue to help pay for a new jail in Lafourche.

Toups argued at the time that the parish libraries were collecting more money than they needed, and the rededication was a way to build the new jail without raising taxes on Lafourche citizens. Toups also made racist comments to The Times while talking about some of the library system’s programs and offerings.

“They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English,” Toups said in reference to a Hispanic-language segment of the Golden Meadow library branch. “Let that son of a b**ch go back to Mexico. There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with…Them junkies and hippies and food stamps (recipients) and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps (on the Internet). I see them do it.”

Toups involuntarily put a microscope on Lafourche Parish, with the council member receiving a heavy backlash as national media picked up his offensive quote.

Andy LeBoeuf, also from Gheens, said the council should not let political correctness get in the way of honoring Toups, whom he commended for his service to the public.

“Lindel fought for the community for all his life,” LeBoeuf said.

Although the council has final say over renaming the library, the library board’s opposition seemed to weigh heavily on multiple council members’ thoughts on the matter. Library System Director Laura Sanders acknowledged the bad blood borne from the jail funding debate, but she said she thought the library board didn’t feel the building was a fitting memorial for Toups’s impact in Gheens. Council Member Armand Autin praised Toups’s service to the public in both the council chamber and the vast amounts of charity events he led, but noted the library board opposition and said the small, portable library building in Gheens would not do him justice. Autin instead suggested renaming a community center or building a standalone memorial for him.

“I thought very highly of him and he always helped us out, so I do want to memorialize him. I just think it should be in a more fitting setting,” Autin said.

However, Gheens’s dearth of projects was also proving to be a hurdle in the renaming debate. The local community center was not built by tax dollars and thus is not subject to parish council votes. Even so, that center as well as the local park in Gheens are both already named after luminaries, so there are limited avenues for council members to honor Toups in his hometown. Council Member Jerry LaFont, who was unsure during the debate but ultimately voted against renaming the library, proposed forming a committee specifically designed to figure out a proper way to honor Toups’s service.

LaFont said Toups told him he meant to talk about illegal immigrants when he asked him about his inflammatory comments. However, LaFont acknowledged the optics issues that could spring from renaming a library in particular, in the face of the library board’s opposition and Toups’s offensive words. Council Member Aaron “Bo” Melvin, who also voted against the ordinance, joined most other council members in praising Toups’s service but calling for a more apt memorial for it.

“I know that the issues surrounding it, I just think it’s quite challenging. For what [Autin] said, if we could name a big memorial back there or something, I think it would be more fitting in this situation,” Melvin said. ∙

Lindel Toups