By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
MANDEVILLE – You certainly wouldn’t blame Charles Goodwin for kicking his feet up on his second floor condo balcony and enjoying each day as he looks directly across the Mandeville lakefront.
Goodwin is 76 years of age and has retired twice after building not only one, but two successful businesses during his life.
But the St. Tammany resident is hardly slowing down and sitting on his life story, something a lot of seniors would happily do if they lived in that beautiful Mandeville location.
Goodwin seems intent on making another mark in this world, but this time he is doing it with his words, becoming somewhat of a thorn in the side of parish government on various fronts as the newest public critic.
After the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) formed in 2011 over a waste transfer station that was originally planned for a highly-visible location in Lacombe along Interstate 12, Goodwin appears to be earning a reputation as a government watchdog of his own.
Not only has Goodwin become a familiar face at public meetings, where he is not shy about voicing his opinion, but he has taken to spending his own money to purchase advertising space in the local newspaper where he makes political commentary on hot button issues of the day.
His goal with all of this is simply to “create an awareness of facts that people need to think about” said Goodwin.
“If I only create awareness of some issues that need attention then I have my reward,” he said. “The last thing I would ever do is run for political office, but I am finding I can be a public voice on important issues in our parish—I’ll just try to help others who have a heart and a civic mind, and who can think beyond first base.”
Goodwin does not mince words on a handful of issues that have been in the news and he likes to use a bit of sarcasm to get his points across. Either way, he is getting more-and-more attention.
After he and his wife Dannie sold their second business in Arkansas in 2007, wrapping up a 17-year stint where they built cabins on a lake and leased them out, the couple moved to St. Tammany Parish where they spent five years in Covington before purchasing their lakefront condo in Mandeville in 2012.
Goodwin was settled into what he called “my second retirement” when he learned the Covington fire department was considering a big-money purchase of a ladder truck to fight “high-rise” fires. They were preparing to ask the public for higher millages to pay for it before Goodwin began attending meetings and let it be known he thought the builders of high-rise structures needed to pay for the expensive truck.
He joined a Covington group known as the Association of Associations (AOA), which pulled together a single voice from many homeowner groups, something that led him to begin attending Mandeville City Council meetings.
When the Mandeville mayoral election came up nearly two years ago he purchased advertising space in the paper to make his candidate of choice clearly known with some witty words in his ad.
But his full-fledged dive into “civics” as he calls it came about when the fracking issue got hot in St. Tammany several years ago.
“At first I thought fracking was better than sliced bread,” he said. “It would help us become energy independent, it burned cleaner than coal and more. But when I looked more deeply into it I saw the negative side—a possible contaminated water system, toxins and possible earthquakes.”
Connecting with CCST to fight the fracking issue he spoke publicly at the Department of Natural Resources meeting in Baton Rouge, as well as a St. Tammany forum. The issue was eventually dropped by the drilling company when they determined the resources here were not adequate enough to make the project cost effective.
Goodwin has been among the critics of Parish President Pat Brister, particularly on the Economic Development District (EDD) sales taxes, the sales tax vote for the jail and Justice Center, and a particular lawsuit that has cost the parish a substantial amount of money.
But nothing raised his ire as much as the decision by the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Commission to raise tolls for a $103 million improvement plan they claim will improve safety with higher rails on both sides of the bridge, and more emergency bays.
“I call the Causeway decision a ‘criminal offense’ since it’s criminal to presume the so-called Safety Bays are safe at all,” he explained. “They have admitted they do not have one study that shows its claims will actually improve safety.”
Goodwin, like others during the debate, pointed out the fact that if the Causeway Commission ever pays off all its bond debt the Causeway operation would be turned over to the state. The new “safety program” puts the commission back into years of debt.
“Their whole game plan is based on keeping the debt so the management can keep their jobs. Period,” he stated.
Goodwin was formerly a member of the St. Tammany West Chamber, but said he “was ex-communicated from the West Chamber for making the case that the Chamber needed to be more community-minded and not so myopically focused,” he remarked.
Growing up in Radford, Va., Goodwin was one of three siblings where his father worked as a professional photographer. He served four years in the Army before attending Virginia Tech, Majoring in Business Administration with a Minor in English, history, political science and psychology.
Perhaps some of his commentary these days comes from his admiration of President John F. Kennedy, “who I came to love, mostly because of his ability to inspire through his voice and vision.”
He has been married twice, with the first marriage ending after 17 years when his wife was killed in a car accident. Now married to Dannie for 28 years he spent his earlier years in the corporate world as a financial manager, sales manager and branch manager of major corporations before starting his own alarm company that he later sold.
Retiring for the first time at the age of 49 he went back to work at the suggestion of Dannie when they moved to Arkansas to build the cabins on the lake, another business he was able to sell before coming back to the North Shore in 2007.
“I did well enough selling the first business that I could have retired at the age of 49 and never worked another day in my life, but Dannie got me back to work with the cabins in Arkansas and it turned out to be a great idea. My mother used to say I must be the luckiest person in the world since I have had the good fortune to have two good wives,” he said.
As for his advice to the younger generations he would like to see a change in the apathetic attitude of so many today who will not vote.
“I can only guess that people think their vote won’t matter and maybe that’s why they won’t do it,” he said. “The fact is that it does matter although you need to be an informed voter. We don’t want ignorant voters and that’s one reason I am using my resources to raise awareness in the public about these issues.”
Goodwin and Dannie have three sons and are awaiting the birth of their first grandchild.