Parish government woes and school safety were some of the issues raised in a forum held Thursday evening for Lafourche Parish district attorney candidates.
Interim District Attorney Kristine Russell, no party-Thibodaux, and Thibodaux City Court prosecutor Brad Naquin, R-Thibodaux, who didn't attend the forum, are running for the office in the March 24 election. Former District Attorney Cam Morvant II, citing health concerns, stepped down Nov. 3 after nearly 15 years in office.
The Lafourche and Thibodaux chambers of commerce and Nicholls State University Student Government Association sponsored the forum, held in Nicholls' Powell Auditorium.
Naquin, in declining to participate, said he couldn't be assured of impartiality. He said he requested the names of the people who would be moderating and screening questions for the forum but had not received that information as of Wednesday.
He raised the issue because Cody Blanchard, board chairman for the Thibodaux Chamber, is a paid consultant for Russell's campaign. Blanchard said he recused himself from every aspect of the forum.
Russell served as assistant district attorney from 2003-12 and first assistant district attorney from 2012-17.
During the forum, she discussed her experience handling juvenile, misdemeanor and felony cases, including two capital cases. She also spoke about being director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Lafourche, which conducts interviews of child abuse victims.
"I'm not a politician," she said. "I don't have all the buzz words that you want, but what I can give you is I will do the right thing always, I will be transparent, and I will be honest. I am the only one who can move this parish forward for you and not backward."
The forum's moderator, Lafourche Chamber President and CEO Lin Kiger, asked Russell about the ongoing disputes between the parish administration and council.
Russell said she's issued nearly 20 opinions since she became interim district attorney in November.
"The DA's Office is the chief legal adviser for our boards and commissions," she said. "We cannot get involved with personality disputes; that's not our job. Our job is to continue to lead them, give them good advice and hope that they follow it."
She touched on several issues she raised in a survey published by The Courier and Daily Comet, including targeting drug dealers and expanding the Victims' Rights Department of the District Attorney's Office.
However, she said most of the employees Morvant hired would remain in the office.
"They are strong, they are aggressive, yet they are compassionate," she said. "I'm not going to fix something that's not broke. What I'm going to do is improve on something that is working."
Another topic raised in the forum was school safety.
Fourteen students were accused over the last two weeks of making threats or other remarks that put authorities on alert in Lafourche, Terrebonne and Assumption parishes. Many comments were related to guns or other weapons.
The incidents followed a Feb. 14 rampage that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Russell said she would develop programs for people in need of mental health treatment.
"I certainly support the Second Amendment, but I don't support illegal weapons on our streets," she said. "All of our leaders need to come together and have a five- and 10-year plan, and the way that we do that is communication and is to be proactive and is to make sure that we get into our schools and start teaching conflict resolution. ... If we're proactive with our children, in five and 10 years we're going to see improvement in our community."
-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.