Plenty of good public officials are out there

Editor July 2, 2013 Comments Off on Plenty of good public officials are out there
Plenty of good public officials are out there

If you watch the actions of government, and find yourself feeling frustrated these days, you need to know that all of the public officials are not in it for themselves.
As a reporter who covers the news from the east side of St. Tammany Parish to the west side, I am getting a very good perspective of the people who govern us.
Truth be known, I am probably in a better position than the vast majority of people in this parish to truly see what is going on in our government, and especially, to know what kind of people are in those positions.
When I talk to those of you in the public sector, I hear a fair share of criticism, and I do understand it. When public officials make decisions that don’t seem to be for the good of you and I—the people who elected them—it can get pretty aggravating.
Do I see some public officials who are in it for themselves? Or do I see some who seem arrogant and full of themselves, simply for having an elected or appointed position in our parish?
Sure, I have to say that I do.
But I also believe the vast majority of our public officials are in it for the right reason. They really do want to make a difference, and they really do enter public office with good intentions.
I interviewed one of our 22nd Judicial Court assistant district attorneys this past week for a story in Tammany West. Bernard Smith is a 66-year-old man who is more than active in his daily job, but also found time to publish his first book three weeks ago. It is a murder-mystery set in St. Tammany Parish, and interestingly enough, has a young judge in the story named Ben Reed—coincidentally the same last name as the real 22nd Judicial District Attorney, Walter Reed.
While I was getting to know a little more about Bernard Smith, I was surprised to hear that he ran for office in 1975, back in my early days of the newspaper business when I was a sportswriter for the Slidell Sentry-News. Truthfully, as a guy who never went to much of any college, and was happily covering high school sports in this area, I barely knew a thing about what was happening on the parish news scene back then.
Unbeknownst to me, Bernard Smith not only ran for the mayor of Mandeville job, but won in his first try at public office. But that isn’t the best part of the story.
Smith was a brand new lawyer, only a couple of years out of law school and starting to practice in the parish. But he too was not happy with what he saw in the public arena, and decided to run for mayor. Why?
“I wanted to decrease taxes and increase services,” he told me. “I was sure we could do that, and after four years, we did do that. I was hoping the people to come behind me would continue what we did.”
The “best part of the story” is that Smith told me he declined to take any salary during his four years. He told me “it is an honor to serve” and that is why he refused a salary.
After four years of serving the community of Mandeville as mayor, Smith declined to run for a second term and allowed others to take over government of the city. He returned to his law practice and has been at it for 40 years, now in his position as an assistant district attorney.
Smith will be featured soon in Tammany West, but I still thought his story of wanting to be mayor, and then refusing to be paid for the job, were such interesting notes that I wanted to relate them to you. It proves what I have seen in many others—that we really do have a lot of well-intentioned public officials, even if a few of the bad eggs get so much more publicity.
As for me, I try to tell the “good stories” along with reporting whatever bad news we may have to report. And from where I stand, the story of Bernard Smith is one of those good ones that should help us support the work most of the public officials give to us—usually for very little pay, or in the case of Smith, none at all.

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I love ice cream, and while I have never had Blue Bell Creameries place any paid advertisement in this newspaper, I am going to give them a free plug by admitting I love their ice cream.
For that matter, I love a particular flavor that I figured was different than the ones most people like. I love Black Walnut and have some of it pretty often.
I attended the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce Expo 2013 last week, and there was a booth set up by the good folks at Blue Bell. I was taking lots of pictures as usual, and began talking to one fellow at the Blue Bell booth. Chris Mitchell happened to be their territory manager who has been working in the ice cream field for 23 years.
I’m assuming most of you know that when you ask what the number one, all-time favorite flavor of ice cream is, from any brand, it is always vanilla. And of course with Blue Bell, that is also true.
I started telling Chris that I love Black Walnut, but other than Rouse’s Supermarket always having my brand, some other stores don’t always carry it. I told him I understood Black Walnut was probably not one of their top ice creams, and that’s where I was surprised.
Chris said that Black Walnut, at least in the Jackson, Miss., area is the number two seller right behind vanilla. While chocolate is normally the number two flavor by a large margin, for whatever reason, folks around Jackson are crazy for Black Walnut.
I was surprised, but it didn’t help my problem of occasionally being nowhere near my favorite grocery store, Rouse’s, and unable to get my Black Walnut. I guess if things get much worse, I’ll have to move to Jackson.
Thanks for the info Chris.

Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at kevinchiri@gmail.com

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