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Donaldsonville Council challenger ruled disqualified due to residency

Michael Tortorich

Last week, a judge ruled Shentelle “Lou” Daigle ineligible to run for the Donaldsonville City Council’s District 3 seat against incumbent Reginald Francis Sr., citing residency.

The Donaldsonville Community Care Committee discuss the upcoming city election during an Aug. 7 podcast.

In a separate residency challenge, Trevis Fernandez was found to meet the requirements to remain in the race for District 4 against incumbent Charles Brown and David Joseph Jr.

All five candidates in the two districts originally registered as Democrats during the July 22 through July 24 qualifying period.

Barring any further appeals, Daigle’s disqualification would return Francis to the seat. 

Daigle has been a vocal critic of the city’s officials. She is an organizer of the Donaldsonville Community Care Committee, which held a march and rally in the city last month. The speakers at the event, which was in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, have called for change in the city’s leadership.

In live-streamed episodes of “504 Radio,” members of the group frequently compare Donaldsonville to Gonzales and the wider east side of Ascension Parish. They point to disparities in schools, economic growth, and poverty. 

Donaldsonville, with an estimated 8,500 people, has a majority Black population. According to census estimates, roughly 75 percent of the population is Black. The poverty rate is nearly 40 percent for the overall population.

The CCC has endorsed candidates for council seats, as well as a challenger to Mayor Leroy Sullivan. They have backed Daigle, Fernandez, District 2 challenger Kurt Mitchell, District 1 challenger Russell Gray, and mayoral candidate Glenn Price. District 1 incumbent Lauthaught Delaney Sr. is the current Co Chair, and District 2 incumbent Raymond Aucoin is the Chair.

In the 23rd Judicial District Court last week, both Francis and Brown filed separate residency challenges against their opponents. The city’s home rule charter requires candidates to reside in their council district for at least six months prior to voting. 

Daigle was ruled ineligible due to her voter registration listing an address outside of the city limits. Fernandez was registered to vote within the city limits, though he was not registered within the council district he is running in. 

When he filed with the Secretary of State, Fernandez listed his address as Evangeline Drive, which is within District 4.

In opening the Aug. 7 episode, host Eric Jones called city officials “a joke,” and accused the council of being run from “behind the scenes.” Jones has pointed out he lives in Atlanta, but has family in Donaldsonville.

“When the oppressor looks just like you, that is a problem,” said Jones, repeating the episode’s title.

During the show, Daigle said she plans to appeal the court ruling. She maintains her current residence is on Nolan Street, and that she previously lived on Sagona Lane years ago.

Price, who is awaiting trial for a felony theft charge, accused City Attorney Charles “Chuck” Long of being “a racist under cover.”

“He’s going to make sure the small percentage of whites still living in Donaldsonville are well represented in their interests,” Price said during the show.

Darryl Comery, the former principal of Lowery Middle School in Donaldsonville, said the city has been “handled like a plantation.”

“There’s an attack on the young Black leaders in the Donaldsonville community,” Comery said, repeating the statement for emphasis.

Comery, who referred to living on the east side, said the parish government, the Sheriff’s Office, the School Board, and City Hall have been working together systemically.

He said he could not “outwork the systemic racism” in the school system during his tenure. He recommended voting against the School Board property tax renewal on Aug. 15, saying west side schools get “patched up,” while east side schools are “state of the art.”

Public school officials have earmarked millions from the existing tax for improvement projects throughout the parish, including schools on both sides of the river. The largest sum, $79 million, would go to constructing Prairieville High School. Leaders also plan to install artificial turf in all four high school stadiums.

Delacey Joseph said she was let go from her position as west side coordinator for Ascension Parish Recreation. She was critical of the parish government department for not properly training her for the job.

Daigle concluded the CCC is being systematically attacked.

"We did something historic. We marched. We had a rally at the African American Museum. This is retaliation," Daigle said.

Leo McKinney, who also spoke of residing on the east side, said he goes to Donaldsonville every day and wants to see the city he loves prosper. He has said he wants older politicians to step aside for younger leaders.

“Things I’ve been through in my life, I didn’t have a choice but to move,” McKinney said. “I classify myself as the next generation of Malcolm X. That’s what I’m studying right now. Guess what? I love all people, man. I’m not racist. My grandfather is a white man, so you know I’m not racist.”

Leslie Southall Fluence, who said she does not live in the city but has family there, told group members they are not going to "go with the flow of things." While previous generations wanted a seat at the table, she said the group should “take over the table.”

Fluence also referred to City Council meetings, which for more than five years have been sparsely attended by the public. Prior to coronavirus, the public seating was empty or close to it for most council meetings.  

Price has been one of the few citizens to attend meetings over recent years. At times, he has spoken during the public comment period, making his opinions known to the council on a variety of matters.

“Not everybody is going to come to a town hall meeting,” Fluence said. “That’s intimidating to a lot of people.”

She said people have to be met where they are. During the show, CCC members said they have been walking the neighborhoods throughout the city to get their campaign messages out.