by Brad Dison
UPDATE: I spoke with Sheriff John Ballance this morning. The sheriff said he did not say what Ms. Garlington quoted him as saying in the article. He said deputies have responded to every call dispatch has received about the Mill Creek Reservoir.
UPDATE: According to the Bienville Parish Police Jury, the board meeting which was set for Thursday, June 24, has been cancelled. A majority of the board members, three of the five resigned this morning, Ann Garlington, Marion Morgan, and Rusty Kaiser (Kaiser requested and thought he had been removed from the board last year).
Many people who visit Mill Creek Reservoir or have visited it in the past have become irritated over multiple aspects of the handling of the lake by the Board of Commission. Many locals have abandoned going to the lake altogether.
For years, people have complained about being charged to fish, swim, launch a boat, picnic, etc. on a public lake which was built with local tax dollars. Residents assert that some people are charged while others are not, that the condition of the areas of the lake which are open to the public are in deplorable and dangerous condition, and that representatives of the commission have made people leave from private property including what locals refer to as the Clay Banks. Some residents claim the board is trying to turn Mill Creek Reservoir into their own private lake.
On Tuesday evening, June 15, Stephen Brown posted on Mill Creek Lake Parks Facebook page, “Can you buy a yearly pass to fish on Mill Creek reservoir instead of paying $6.00 [every] time you want to go fishing on a public Mill Creek Lake Parks?”
Within hours, the Facebook page was flooded with comments in response to Brown’s question. Some Facebook users argued that the lake is being mismanaged while others commented in defense of the board:
Stephen Brown: “I think they trying to turn it into their own private lake”
Jeff Enloe: “Don’t y’all remember when we didn’t have to pay to swim, fish, or even to build a fire to socialize. The lake was always packed with people. Saline’s small businesses were prospering. Of course, you will get the good and the bad people. Whomever was sitting on the board at Saline thought it was getting out of hand [and] shut it down. When they did, they killed Saline.
David Mauthe: “To me it’s no different than going to saline creek bridge and setting up a toll booth. The tax payers built it with public tax dollars and it should be open to public… If there’s problems then last time I checked there’s still a Sheriff’s department to take care of that. But in my opinion to leave a place open to the public for 25 years then decide to fence and gate it because a few people aren’t satisfied with others behavior isn’t the right solution to me.”
Nathan Brown: “This whole thing has been done wrong from the beginning.”
Some members of the Facebook group commented in defense of the board but requested that they not be quoted in this article. The majority of those comments spoke of the improvements that the commission has done through the years and how difficult their job is.
I spoke with Ann Garlington, president of the Board of Commission. Garlington said she has served on the board “for a loooooooong time because nobody else wants to do it.” “A lot of people want to be on the board but don’t want to do the work.” She said she “can’t get them [board members] together for a meeting. We’ve got to have three people to have a meeting. Usually it’s me and Marion [Morgan] and that’s it, and we can’t do nothing.” She said two sheriff’s deputies are board members but they work different shifts so they can’t have a meeting with everyone present.
She said that all board members are volunteers and receive no monetary compensation. However, Garlington said board members’ families don’t have to pay to swim, launch a boat or enter the park. They still have to pay for camping. She said all board members must own property on the lake.
She said she is the only one taking money for the time being because they haven’t been able to find anyone to do it. “The only reason we’ve got what we’ve got,” Garlington said, “is because I work for nothing. Saturday’s, I’m there most of the day.” She explained that she isn’t available to be at the lake all the time to collect money and they can’t afford to pay someone to be there all the time. She said that a lot of people refuse to pay and “I don’t guess the sheriff can do anything about it.” “You can’t put people in jail because they’re broke,” she said.
Garlington said that people continually vandalize the signs, buildings, and park equipment. When the board fixes them, vandals destroy or steal them again. She said she spoke with the sheriff about the problems with theft and vandalism and he asked ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ “They won’t do nothing,” Garlington said. She said the board installed cameras but they’ve not been able to catch anyone vandalizing the property.
Garlington said money received from visitors goes toward repairs and upkeep. She said the board receives no money from the Police Jury. She pointed out that the board paid for the bathrooms, not the Police Jury. She stated that the Police Jury wouldn’t fix the damaged fence at the Watergate.
Garlington said last year that she wasn’t going to be on the board anymore but she couldn’t find anyone to take her place. “I hate to see it destroyed,” she said “I live here.” She said repeatedly, “I hope the state would come in and take it over. I hope to goodness that the state would come in and take it over.”
I spoke with Stephen Brown who said that the board is not maintaining the property but is still collecting money. “If the lake commission is taking up money, why are things such as these not being fixed. Does everyone who pays cash get a receipt?” He questioned whether the board has receipts for money taken in and deposited.
Brown pointed out that according to the Lake Commission Charter [Acts 1995, No. 443, §2, eff. June 17, 1995.] (see full charter below), board members can serve a maximum of eight consecutive years. Therefore, Garlington and Morgan are ineligible to serve on the board. Brown said that the board is required by law to hold regular meetings which are open to the public, and the board must post the time, date, place, and agenda for each meeting at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. “I talked to a board member who said they have never been to a meeting or contacted to go to one.” Brown said, “If there is nothing to hide, why not have regularly scheduled meetings with financial records and transparency, which is required by Louisiana law.” “When was their last audit?”
Brown is in the process of requesting the lake commission’s financial records. He said they should be held accountable for all the money they’ve collected and spent. Brown argued that it is not legal for board members and their families to be exempt from paying to use the lake. They should have to pay like everyone else. Everyone should be charged the same. He argued that the board should follow their own charter. “If they’re gonna run it,” Brown said, “it should be by the book.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, June 16 and 17, I visited the spots on the lake which are open to the public for a fee. (see photos below)
Dam and Spillway
- There is no sign to tell visitors that they are entering a paid part of the lake. Two posts which once held a sign are all that remain. A sign titled “Location of Dam” has been attached to and is covering a LA DOTD sign.
- There is a metal money box welded onto a pole near the dock. There is no writing or signage on the money box to let visitors know that they are required to pay to launch a boat.
- The dock is a danger to the public because it is missing four boards on the main walking deck.
- There was litter, including glass bottles and broken glass, on the ground.
- A small sign sitting on the ground on Hwy 155 advertises “Mill Creek RV Park.”
- A larger sign near the RV Park entrance specifies the fees associated with the use of the park.
- The bathroom building exterior is in good condition. The interior of the bathroom was clean and toilets working.
- The gate closest to Hwy 155 appears to have been run over.
- The gate closest to the lake shows the hours of operation and a partial phone number.
- The dock is a danger to the public because there is a separation of several feet between the bank and the dock. Visitors who want to use the dock have to step onto a large concrete block to get onto the dock.
- Several of the BBQ pits are a danger to the public because the grill portions have been removed or broken away, which has left poles with rusty, jagged edges.
- The exterior of the bathroom building is in good condition. None of the toilets are flushable. The showers were inoperable and had pieces missing.
In response to the public commentary, Ann Garlington, president of the Board of Commission, has called a public meeting which will be held June 24, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. at Magnolia Baptist Church in Saline. Garlington said, “I want them all to be there at the meeting… If you want to find out what goes with the money and how it’s taken care of, who pays the bills. The Police Jury ain’t paid nothing, I’ll tell you for sure.”
I plan to do a live stream of the meeting and by that time hope to have comments from the other four board members which will be included in a follow up article.
Click Here to Read the The Lake Commission Charter
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