Clean up your act!

If you’re in downtown Houma on March 31 and you’re dying to toss that scrap of cellophane wrapper out the car window, the Terrebonne Garden Club is asking you to think twice.

The club, celebrating its 80th year of existence, is sponsoring Houma’s entry in the statewide Cleanest City Contest, staged annually by the Louisiana Garden Club Federation since 1958 to promote anti-litter efforts and to improve the appearance of cities.

“Since we are 80 years old this year, we wanted to make sure we entered,” said club president Mary Jane Peters, who is also district chairwoman for the Cleanest City Contest.

Three out-of-town judges, two from Covington and one from Mandeville, will be driven around Houma beginning at 10 a.m. at the Terrebonne Folklife Culture Center to score the city in 10 categories of cleanliness. The judges will take into account the fact that Houma is still recovering from Hurricane Gustav, Peters said.

“The route is mapped out,” she said, “but the judges can say, ‘Take me somewhere else.’ But we have a route in mind.”

The judges will first visit the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse Square near the parish’s Folklife Culture Center because the square is the crown jewel of the parish.

Parish President Michel Claudet will accompany Peters and the three judges in the car.

Houma is in a district comprised of parishes stretching from Lafourche to Vermilion. Six cities from the district besides Houma are entered: Lafayette, New Iberia, Morgan City, St. Martinville, Carencro and Gueydan. The same judges score all the cities in a district.

To compete with one another, cities are divided based on population. New Iberia is the only other city within the district that Houma will go up against.

District winners compete against other district winners in Louisiana for state titles in their population divisions. In 2008, New Iberia won state in its population category (between 25,000 and 60,000 residents inside the city’s corporate limits), a year that Houma did not enter.

Houma won the district title two years ago, but did not win state.

Each of the cleanliness categories has a maximum number of points to be awarded. The city with the most total points wins.

The categories are streets, sidewalks, posts and neutral grounds; vacant lots; approaches to the city; parks and cemeteries; public buildings; residential areas; business establishments; community involvement; a scrapbook showing cleanup efforts, particularly abandoned car removal; and overall impression of cleanliness.

“They will look at schools, nursing homes, libraries,” Peters said. “They will look at their lawns to see if they are well-kept, free of litter, and especially at telephone posts. They will look at vacant lots to find junked cars. That’s a big no-no. Make sure there are no abandoned cars.”

The judges will emphasize the attractiveness of the approaches to Houma, she said.

District Cleanest City Contest winners will be announced on April 1. If Houma wins, state judging will take place during the first two weeks of May.

According to Peters, Houma won state titles in the late ’80s and early ’90s. With everyone’s help, we can do it again.