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|A divider among us in Ouachita|
Over the past nine months, a host of civic-minded individuals developed a new program aimed at assisting school teachers, law enforcement officers and concerned citizens in dealing with children who hail from impoverished backgrounds.
Those responsible for the new program, "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," included representatives of the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Ouachita Parish Schools, the City of West Monroe and the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce.
On Aug. 12, the aforementioned parties will host a day-long conference at the West Monroe Convention Center to kick off the new program. Every first-year teacher in the Ouachita Parish school system will attend. School teachers from Lake Providence to Bossier City have signed up to attend, too. The West Monroe Police Department instructed its officers who are responsible for providing law enforcement in impoverished neighborhoods to attend the conference as well.
The aim, or goal, of the day-long conference is to introduce information, or research, on dealing with impoverished children, which the West Monroe chamber, the university and the parish school system pieced together over the past nine months. That research, or information, also is intended to explain why teachers and the like, who would be considered middle-class members of society, often encounter an information disconnect in interacting with impoverished children. That disconnect often plays a significant role in impoverished children becoming frustrated with a structured, educational atmosphere. Of course, that could lead a child—at some point in his or her life—to drop out of school to pursue a course in life that's not in the best interest of society in general.
In the meantime, ULM will offer a semester-long, online course for teachers, law enforcement officers and for any concerned citizen, too, who have an interest in learning how to communicate with, or understand, less fortunate children. Ouachita Parish Schools has plans to pay for the online course so every first-year teacher who works in the parish school system can take it without it personally costing them any money. The West Monroe Police Department has plans as well to pay for the online course for its officers who spend their time on the job interacting with impoverished kids.
To surmise, "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" would appear to be a rock-solid effort by some concerned men and women, who realize society, including the educational arena and law enforcement community, cannot afford to dismiss the wants and needs of children who were brought into this world amid an impoverished atmosphere.
However, Sue Nicholson, president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, apparently does not see it that way.
Instead of publicly applauding and embracing "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," Nicholson expressed her displeasure over the parties that developed it. She expressed her displeasure over the scope of it, too.
Once learning "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" had been unveiled publicly, Nicholson e-mailed Dr. James Cofer, president of ULM, and Dr. Bob Webber, superintendent of Ouachita Parish Schools. She questioned why the Monroe Chamber of Commerce was not included in developing the new program. Nicholson also questioned why other organizations, such as the United Way, were not invited to provide input.
Other individuals received e-mails from Nicholson. Those e-mails—like the one Cofer and Webber received—basically questioned the integrity of the men and women who spent the past nine months working on the plan in question, which is clearly intended to help improve the lives of poor children. In other words, the new program is intended to move this community forward.
Had Nicholson taken the time to study what we would describe as a poverty fighting endeavor, she would have discovered the new program will serve people from all walks and all vocations in life in the 11-parish region that comprises northeastern Louisiana, not just western Ouachita Parish.
With that backdrop in mind, we believe it is worth noting Nicholson's flair-up with Cofer, Webber and others was not the first instance in which the Monroe chamber president fired off a pointed e-mail to or engaged in a verbal confrontation with individuals who spend much of their time attempting to make northeastern Louisiana a more attractive community in which to live and work.
A couple of examples come to mind, including an e-mail blistering the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee over what Nicholson felt was his lack of concern for infrastructure projects in Ouachita Parish the state was asked to fund. There was that instance as well in which Nicholson claimed she, or the Monroe chamber, did not have enough time to study a proposal to levy a small property tax for mosquito abatement efforts in Ouachita Parish. Individuals who advocated for passage of the tax outlined the positives of the tax for the chamber months prior to voters deciding the tax's fate. But the Monroe chamber publicly opposed the tax anyway, though voters overwhelmingly approved it at the polls. What does that tell us?
We vividly recall Nicholson's involvement, too, in working against a property tax measure to pay for operating the parish prison, Ouachita Correctional Center. After voters defeated a tax proposition in late 2006, a blue-ribbon panel was formed to conduct a study to provide recommendations on how the parish should handle a funding shortfall at OCC. Nicholson was not asked serve on the panel. Ultimately, the panel's recommendations led to voters being asked again to approve a tax for the prison. That tax passed thanks to the efforts of men such as Cofer, Webber, West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris, then-Ouachita Parish Sheriff Richard Fewell, District Attorney Jerry Jones and others, including a host of men and women who toil day in and day out in the private sector. Nicholson didn't lift a finger to help pass the much-needed tax, which has given law enforcement at least one of the tools it needs to combat crime in Ouachita.
There are countless other examples of Nicholson acting in a manner that certainly did not serve in the best interest of the people and the business community in Ouachita, but we believe the examples we have given in this piece speak volumes. Bluntly put, Nicholson is a divider, not a uniter.
Over the years, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce has enjoyed incredible support among pillars of the community, men who devoted countless hours of their time and energy in hopes of the chamber serving as a driving force in a positive light for all of northeastern Louisiana.
Some of those individuals who come mind include David Silverstein, Tom Scott, Nelson Able, Lee Vanderpool, George Rorex, George T. Walker, Garland Shell, Jack Rivers, Jim Rivers, George Moses, Bill Sanders, Johnny Sherrouse, James Moore Sr., Lawrence Gibbs, Bob Powell and Jim Altick. In recent years, Clyde White, Harvey Hales, George Cummings and Melvin Rambin were among some of the outstanding men in this community who generously volunteered to ensure that the chamber evolved into one of the finest chambers of commerce in Louisiana. That's exactly what the Monroe chamber was at one time.
In fact, when Mike Neal served as president of the Monroe chamber it was named one of the finest chambers of commerce in America.
What's Neal up to these days?
He's president of the chamber of commerce in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That chamber—on Neal's watch—was named 2008 Chamber of the Year by American Chamber of Commerce Executives.
That raises a question.
How long will the Monroe chamber's board of directors sit idly by and allow Nicholson to tear apart a first-class organization, which a host of first-class individuals built from the ground up?