- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Oct. 29

The Town Talk on LSU Alexandria’s new leader:

Any time there is a change in leadership, it’s a pivotal moment. The reference is made so many times in news stories and corporate press releases, it has almost become cliche.

But, when we look at Louisiana State University of Alexandria’s search for a new chancellor, we can’t help but see it as a pivotal point in the university’s history.

In our view, recently-departed chancellor Dr. Daniel Howard set the bar pretty high. You have to go back to Dr. Robert Cavanaugh and his successful push in 2001 to make LSUA a four-year institution to find the kind of rapid growth and expansion of services that Howard brought to the campus.

When Cavanaugh took the reins, LSUA was a two-year commuter college. By the time he retired, the school was issuing 4-year bachelor’s degrees. When Howard arrived, although the school was a full-fledged 4-year institution, it was still viewed by many as a commuter college. Enrollment was falling and very few students lived on campus.

Howard worked tirelessly to change that. Under his brief leadership, the school set records for enrollment growth, upgraded the on-campus meal services and filled the on-campus housing. Part of filling the campus housing was Howard’s push to expand beyond the traditional recruiting footprint of Central Louisiana, including a focused effort to recruit international students. Innovative new programs, from rugby to rodeo, proved very successful in attracting students who likely had never heard of Central Louisiana to the small but growing campus just south of Alexandria.

Howard clearly had a vision for aggressive growth, and he expanded on the foundation Cavanaugh and others worked to put in place. He successfully changed the culture, effectively changing the way the community - and the university - saw itself and its potential.

Rather than having the luxury of simply trying to build on and maintain the positive momentum Howard started, the next chancellor will face tremendous challenges on the financial side that could threaten the school’s very existence. Years of budget cuts to higher education have taken their toll on universities across the state. LSUA has taken hits, but through careful management and the steady enrollment gains the damage has been held to a minimum.

But that was before TOPS funding was cut, and before news of the $300+ million budget deficit from last year. Gov. John Bel Edwards has already warned that more cuts to higher education are coming. Bottom line, a bad situation is about to get worse.

Managing through the cuts will require strong leadership. The challenges ahead would be difficult for a seasoned veteran. It will be even harder for a new leader faced with learning not only his way around campus, but through the fiscal quagmire that is Louisiana higher education funding.

We don’t envy the members of the search committee as they do their work. In our estimation, they hit a home run when they hired Howard two years ago. The staff and students at LSUA - and Central Louisiana - need them to do that again.




Nov. 1

The Advocate on cleaning up Baton Rouge:

The diverse crowd of candidates for mayor-president of Baton Rouge recently differed on various issues during a wide-ranging discussion about the future of Baton Rouge. But they were united, and visibly angered, by the appearance of the city they live in and the trash that litters its public ways.

One of the candidates, former Metro Council member Smokie Bourgeois, recalled how hurt he was when a visitor referred to “raggedy Rouge.”

Most of the candidates at the forum, sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, related their experiences cleaning up business sites and rights-of-way or working with neighborhoods to combat blighted structures and lots. All worried about the limited resources available to the city-parish Redevelopment Authority or nonprofits, either focusing on litter (Keep Louisiana Beautiful) or housing and neighborhood issues, like community development corporations.

We applaud the candidates for raising these concerns. Baton Rouge’s appearance discourages growth, and it’s a painful reminder of how common litterbugs are around here.

Larger issues await the next administration, and those go beyond the ordinary initiatives of cleaning up streets. We hope the eventual winner and members of the Metro Council embrace a stronger and more comprehensive BRAC initiative, promoting “quality of place” for the city-parish.

Two volunteers, businessmen Lee Jenkins and Tim Johnson, are heading a BRAC task force on the issues, and those encompass more than just cleaning up after our collective selves.

Both suggest that urban design standards, and subsequent maintenance, are just too low here. There seems to be almost a standard, 40-degree list for street signs, not only in Baton Rouge but around the region. Fixing those might be easy enough, but there are bigger projects that could be tackled, too.

The “streetscape” projects undertaken by progressive administrations in Lafayette helped to transform Jefferson Street and bring more businesses to its downtown. Those are costly, particularly in downtown areas, but in July, Johnson called them the cheapest economic development projects available.

Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux is continuing his city’s progress with a plan for University Avenue, another Interstate 10-linked gateway into his city. We hope that the state Department of Transportation and Development will adhere to the highest design standards for an Interstate 49 connector in Lafayette.

In Baton Rouge, there is also a lot to do. We are, proudly, a university town, but over the past decades, budget cuts have resulted in campuses being hard-pressed to keep their buildings and grounds in good condition; our street design desperately needs to be driven into the 21st Century.

Fortunately, we have resources, including the long-term leadership of the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence. With a push from the mayor-president’s office, perhaps government can do better at advancing the quality of life here, but also the quality of place as we go about our lives.




Nov. 2

The Courier of Houma on the recent opening of a community medical center:

Thibodaux Regional Medical Center opened its $73 million Wellness Center on Tuesday, a milestone that stands to benefit not just the hospital but the community overall.

Celebrating the opening last week, officials noted that the state ranks among the worst in the nation in many health indicators, something the center aims to combat by offering doctor-supervised fitness programs that aim to prevent illness rather than treating problems after they have taken a toll.

“Too much of health care is really sick care,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during the ceremony. “Sick care is very important because we have to try to make people better when they get sick, but the visionary leadership that would find $70 million to pay for this facility to keep people healthy in the first place so that they don’t unnecessarily become sick, that truly is cutting edge in our country and certainly in our state.”

A few things that stand out about this endeavor:

- Hospital CEO Greg Stock and the public board that runs the hospital put a lot on the line 10 years ago when they started work on the center. They deserve credit for bringing this state-of-the-art building into reality, and we’re confident they will meet the challenges required to make it a success going forward.

-One of the things that engenders that confidence is that the center has already signed up 3,000 people for memberships. That community support will be essential.

-The building and its equipment are already paid for using hospital revenue. Not a single taxpayer dollar was spent. And the hospital itself, officials say, has zero debt. What an accomplishment in an age when health care financing is anything but predictable.

-The center, which employs about 100 people, is anticipated to have an initial $290 million economic impact and a $5.2 million ongoing annual economic impact on the Houma-Thibodaux area. That’s a positive story to tell in a community hit hard by an oil bust that has resulted in thousands of layoffs over the past two years.

-Though not entirely certain, Stock said he plans to work with the board to see if there is a way the center can serve residents who have lost their jobs during the downtown. That ‘s the kind of thing a community-owned hospital ought to do.

Sure, the center could provide the hospital with a steady stream of new patients from here and outside the community, but that is not its main purpose. Its biggest benefit, if everything goes as planned, should be a better quality of life for locals who use its services, one that just might help them avoid more costly treatment in an emergency or operating room.

That will take not just the commitment demonstrated by the hospital and its leaders, but on the part of people in our community who want to live healthier lives. We believe both of those groups are up to the task.



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