CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - Two inspectors from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) spent their morning in East Feliciana Parish Monday, Jan. 7 following Clinton Mayor Lori Bell telling the 9News Investigators Friday that the majority of the 22 deficiencies they were cited for had been fixed.
They started at the Taylor Street well, which is currently offline. Four town employees, who are not certified in water by the state, were working on it and applying a fresh coat of blue paint. The crew then moved to the other well, the only one that’s serving Clinton residents water right now. The state inspectors also tested the water. So is the majority of everything fixed like Mayor Bell said last Friday?
“I’m seeing some activity, but I know it’s not fixed. It’s not fixed until we come around and see everything we cited is no longer a problem. In my opinion, something is fixed if it is corrected. Her opinion is she has someone fixing it, that’s a different statement,” said state health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry.
To get some answers directly from Mayor Bell, the 9News Investigators went to Clinton's Town Hall and found her as she was leaving.
KIRAN: Can you tell the people of Clinton anything when it comes to the water system here?
MAYOR: Well, we are working on it. We're working on it. That's all I can say.
KIRAN: Can you tell us the $97,000 that you pulled out from one bank and into another, what happened to that money?
MAYOR: I have no comment. That's under investigation. I have no comment.
KIRAN: What about the fact that you are under investigation for possible malfeasance when it comes to the water system here?
MAYOR: I have no comment.
KIRAN: Can you tell us why you did not respond to the Department of Health in the first 90 days?
MAYOR: I have no comment.
KIRAN: Do you have anything to say?
MAYOR: No, not right now. I'm under advice of my legal counsel.
KIRAN: Do you realize that there are several people out there who are not getting the proper water because of you?
MAYOR: I have no comment, Kiran. Thank you. Call my attorney. He’s going to call you. Niles Haymer. Thank you.
“I think it’s terrible that the mayor can’t stand up, speak up, and support this town. As she said, she referred you to her attorney. Why would the mayor have to refer you to her attorney?” asked Clinton resident, Kat Smith.
Smith lives near the only working well in town, which is located on Oak Street, and showed up at Town Hall Monday frustrated and hoping to get her own answers. “Right now, I cannot wash my dishes. I can’t wash my clothes. I’m not about to until I know that water is okay. I have bottled water for brushing my teeth. It’s terrible,” said Smith.
Numerous sources said Friday, Jan. 4, there was a break in a water line, but no boil advisory was issued. The state said the water is safe by their standards. As a precautionary measure though, East Feliciana Schools Superintendent Carlos Sam had bottles of water sent to two schools in Clinton: East Feliciana Alternative and Clinton Elementary. “We have an obligation to protect our students regardless of what the circumstances are,” said Sam.
Sam said since the 2018-19 school year started in August, they’ve had six boil advisories and had to buy cases of water five times, which is why they now have a room stocked with cases of water. Sam said they are closely monitoring Clinton’s water issues. “It is a bump in the road and it is worrisome because you don’t know what the outcome could be in that requires us as a school system to make some decisions of where kids would go to school if for some reason we did not have access to healthy water,” said Sam.
Clinton still does not have a certified water operator, which is one of the 22 deficiencies cited. “She’s taking this issue into her own hands and she’s going to take care of it for the town and I guarantee it by mid month of January, all these issues will be resolved,” said Mayor Bell’s lawyer, Niles Haymer.
In the meantime, many in Clinton are left asking about the water in their town. “Until you trust the people who are doing the work for you, you may want to buy your water because I can’t tell you how safe it is,” said Dr. Guidry.
But trust isn’t something many people in Clinton have right now, especially in their mayor. “I would like for her to step down. We need someone who can come in here and efficiently take care of this job,” said Smith.
The East Feliciana Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police continue investigating whether Mayor Bell’s handling of the water system is criminal and warrants a malfeasance in office charge. The mayor’s lawyer fought back, saying it’s all political. “People are just trying to throw everything at her at one time, hoping that she will step down and resign. She’s not going anywhere and that’s what the people of Clinton need to know. Your mayor will be there and she’s going to keep fighting for you,” said Haymer.
The 9News Investigators learned Precinct 16 in East Feliciana Parish did file a recall petition for Mayor Bell with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office on Nov. 8, 2018.
A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office said 419 signatures are required, which is a third of the 1,260 registered voters, and the petition must be turned in by May 7.
If you would like to look at the results of the water samples taken, click here.