The gallery at the regular monthly meeting of the Vernon Parish Police Jury was once again packed. Some came to watch the police jury honor student athletes for their successful baseball seasons and athletic achievements.
But not everyone was there to highlight some good.
Several residents were there to voice their frustration and complaints about the lack of attention their parish roads continue to receive. Many of the same residents brought their complaints to the police jury in October of 2018. In fact, multiple residents of Vernon Parish Police Jury District Twelve have made the same recurring complaints for three years, and still they wait for roads to be satisfactorily repaired, or just plain safe.
William Tyree has lived on Dippin’ Vat Road for more than three years. He told the police jury that during the time he has lived on Vernon Lake his road has continuously deteriorated with little to no relief from his district representative, Kenny Haymon.
“We have just about been begging him for some gravel on this road. We are constantly tearing our vehicles up and there are times when the road is almost impassable for anything besides a 4x4 vehicle and that’s not acceptable,” said Tyree.
Tyree went on to say that there are third world countries that have better roads than we have in Vernon Parish district twelve.
He told the police jury he fears for his family’s safety driving on his road.
Tyree stated that he has called Haymon several times, even sent him text messages about his concerns.
In the beginning Tyree found Haymon to be very responsive to his complaints. But as of late, he feels he is being ignored.
Tyree said Haymon has completely shut off all communication with him. It wasn’t until Tyree reached out to another police juror for relief was something done to the road.
Tyree said he has asked Haymon seven or eight times to meet with him to look at the problem.
Haymon said he has sent his foreman out to look at the road because, “I am not a road guy and I don’t know how to fix a road,” while he assured Tyree that was not the job of the police jury.
In his defense, Haymon then brought up a glowing review he received from Tyree in December 2017 praising him for always returning his calls and being open to discussion about problems in the district.
In the review, Tyree went on to state he knew the remote area was on a dangerous road when they built their home and that Haymon did everything he could to ensure the road was maintained and safe.
However, that was then. Now, Tyree does not feel the same way.
Haymon said the police jury worked on building the base up on Dippin’ Vat Road in November then returned and put gravel down in March. The crew has not been back out there because of the rain.
A visibly upset Tyree asked Haymon if he would let his family drive up and down the road in the condition it was in. Haymon hesitated to respond which prompted Tyree to yell “you can’t answer because you know you wouldn’t so why would you let your constituents do it.”
“Bill, you have a long road, a very treacherous road. It would take a lot of money to fix that road,” Haymon retorted.
“We’re not asking for a blacktop, just some gravel!” Tyree exclaimed.
At this point police jury President Jim Tuck intervened and assured Tyree that the district foreman and Parish Road Manager, Carl Thompson, would go out to look at the road and make an assessment to see what can be done.
Tyree concluded his statement by saying part of the problem is the residents are just being ignored.
“That’s what’s made this such a heated issue, we’ve been ignored. If I really wanted to get in touch with you (Haymon), I guess I could get on Facebook and get on your page,” Tyree said.
In an earlier statement Tyree said: “Texting seems to be about the best way to get ahold of him, other than Facebook.”
Jim Gautreaux lives on Smart Camp Road and he too addressed the police jury about the concerns he has for his road. Smart Camp Road is also in Haymon’s district. He said that as far as communication goes, Haymon has been pretty responsive to him.
But he has found from personal experience that if he really wanted to see anything done on his road he needed to call the police jury office directly, who will then send someone out resulting in action being taken a lot quicker.
Gautreaux said that gravel is desperately needed on the Smart Camp Road. On the weekends there is a lot of ATV traffic tearing the roads up. He has made several calls to the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Department to report the activity in an effort to put a stop to it but the activity continues.
Gautreaux has received phone calls in the middle of the night to help pull a car out of the red clay.
Last year one of the residents on Smart Camp Road was shot in the foot and the ambulance was unable to drive the road to get to the victim. Instead, a medevac helicopter was called in to transport the patient to the hospital.
Steven Anderson is a resident of Ford Stewart Road who told the police jury that he retired and moved into his house three years ago.
He recalled that when he moved in Ford Stewart Road was in excellent condition but it has gone to “hell in a handbasket” since.
He suffers from a lung condition and says that gravel on the road is not the answer.
“On a hot sunny day, I’m a prisoner in my own house” Anderson told the jurors.
Tuck and Haymon both assured Anderson that a three-year plan to fix the road is in place. However they are unable to start the work because of the rain.
Another resident of Ford Stewart Road, Kevin Johnson, told the police jury that since they implemented the three-year plan last fall nothing has been done to Ford Stewart Road and it continues to get worse.
Johnson said there are three or four spots along the road where two cars cannot pass side-by-side because of the holes along the road.
Johnson said he knows where the holes are and is able to avoid them, but if someone was to drive down Ford Stewart Road at night going 35-40 MPH and didn’t know about the holes, there will be an accident.
Johnson then asked VPPJ Legal Council Terry Lambright since the problems with the roads have been brought up and documented so many times, would it be considered negligence by the police jury if there was an accident.
“The condition of the road is so unsafe, it’s going to end up causing an accident. I’m literally to the point where I’m waiting for someone to get killed on that road, ” Johnson said.
Tuck agreed with Johnson that it was a dangerous road and, once again, assured the residents of Ford Stewart Road that they will implement the three-year plan as soon as weather permitting.
We have had quite a bit of rain but according to Johnson there have been plenty of dry spells when would could have been done on the road.
Tuck asked if Johnson was talking about patching the road and Johnson said no.
Recently Johnson sent Haymon some photographs of a hole that was filled with ‘hot shot’ that were now muddy water holes.
“I sent it (the photos) to him (Haymon) because it’s just a waste of money to do it like that,” Johnson said.
Robin Stewart was the final resident to speak to the police jury about the condition of Ford Stewart Road.
Stewart started by thanking the police jury for giving the residents the opportunity to voice their concerns and issues.
“We’ve all become painfully aware that there’s a problem on Ford Stewart Road,” she said.
Stewart feels the residents have been more than patient given the amount of time it’s taking to fix the roads.
Some of the fourteen residents on Ford Stewart Road have put their homes up for sale for various reasons.
One resident had a potential buyer who loved her home but said there was no way they would buy her home on such a dangerous road.
Stewart then asked the police jury “how in the world are people going to sell homes on that road?”
Stewart said she has no plans to move away but something has got to be done for the people who have lived there for years, like the military, who do plan on selling their homes and will be moving elsewhere.
“This is unacceptable and we have got to do better,” she told the police jury.
Stewart said that before Haymon was elected to the police jury he recognized there was a problem on Ford Stewart Road.
Once elected to the police jury Haymon inherited the road and the problems. But now Haymon needs to figure out how to change it and fix the problem.
“I can’t imagine if any one of you jurors lived on that road it would be in this condition. I do not believe you would allow your families to travel this road,” Stewart said.
Stewart finished her comments by saying about Haymon’s position on the police jury, “you often brag about how much you love doing it, but you have to do it.”
After all visitors spoke to the police jury, Justin Jackson, who was sitting in the gallery, asked about the legality of the residents fixing or repairing the roads themselves.
Lambright quickly advised him that it was illegal for individuals to perform work on public roads and anyone caught doing would receive a notice and could be cited.
Jackson then told Lambright that he might as well send him a notice because he has been doing what he can to help his neighbors.
Residents all over Vernon Parish are dealing with rough and dangerous roads that often leads to damaged vehicles and tires.
Many residents have submitted a claim to the police jury to fix the damage or reimbursement for what they paid for the repairs.
Nearly every single claim that has been submitted has been denied.
"I get that if you pay one claim you'd have to pay them all, and that's a can of worms you don't want to open" Stewart said.