New focus in a new year

As we enter 2016 the need for local elected representatives to courageously and proactively address the needs of communities in the Bayou Region is more important than ever.

We have seen too often in the past missed opportunities for local government to take charge of seeking solutions. Parish councils in Terrebonne and Lafourche have the ability and the authority to start discussing a need for change as to how public concerns are prioritized and handled.

Robust and respectful debate geared toward problem solving is ever more needed. We have great minds in both these parishes and they should be tapped for what they can lend to discussions.

In Lafourche, serious discussion has already been suggested regarding the levee system that protects residences and businesses from flooding. It took little more than a strong south wind last week to cause flooding in the streets of Leeville, or what is left of Leeville.

Lafourche Parish has long been a leader in protecting its people from the ravages of storms and other natural conditions which, when coupled with problems related to global temperature change, just become more acute.

In Terrebonne Parish, the work of protecting and restoring the coast is well under way, and while the problem certainly needs tending, there is more work that needs to be done in other areas.

One of the most important goals the Terrebonne Parish Council can have this year is for its members and the executive branch to have a thorough knowledge of how and why violent crime – in particular crime committed by people with guns – remains a problem.

That much of the violence is intertwined with illicit drug traffic is undeniable.

But for too long we have regarded these issues as strictly being for law enforcement to solve.

Among the ideas that have been brought up over this past year is creation of a blue-ribbon panel to determine how the connection between young people and such street violence can be severed. No easy task, to be sure. But a committee should be assembled whose sole purpose is to identify the problem and recommend solutions within the reach of local government, including the securing of grant money to coordinate and directly fund violence prevention efforts.

Also of importance, particularly in Terrebonne, is the need to address how the parish can more directly have a voice in matters pertaining to mental health services.

Lafourche Parish has long done a good job at integrating the need for mental health care with the various programs offered by the state, although things in that department are far from perfect.

In Terrebonne, council members need to direct efforts to see what ways local government can more clearly chart a course for availability of services. The state’s management of mental health care has been slipshod and in many ways not nearly as effective as it should be.

One big boost will be incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards’ support for expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana. Taking advantage of the federal government’s offer will mean more Louisianans can access not just care for what ails the body, but also the mind. And the connections between an effective mental health service infrastructure and a better quality of life for all cannot at this point be ignored or denied.

Council members are not doctors and not sociologists. But they do have the ability to gather the best information possible to determine how they can be part of the solution.

They need to invite health care providers, law enforcement, prosecutors and anyone else who has potentially valuable insight to put their heads together and come up with solutions.

How, one may ask, can a small local government begin to determine such things?

The answer lies in the heads of the experts who can be tapped for providing just such information. And the imprimatur of an elected body, through encouragement of a discussion, can go a long way toward making things better in the future. •