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First Tangi Parish President Gordon Burgess dies

Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 | Views: 4046

First Tangi Parish President Gordon Burgess dies

AMITE—Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller announced Wednesday that flags are being lowered at parish offices today in remembrance of Tangipahoa’s first Parish President Gordon Burgess.

“I am sad to report that Mr. Burgess has died following a brief illness,” Miller reported. “He was surrounded by his family, and our parish joins with them in mourning this great man and visionary leader.”

The state’s longest-serving Parish President, Burgess retired from public life in 2016 at the close of his eighth term in office.

“I have been honored to serve as your first and only parish president, and although I am sad to be entering my final year, I am proud to say that our team has made a monumental difference in the lives of our residents,” Burgess said when announcing his retirement in 2015.

Burgess took office in October 1986 when the parish moved from the police jury system to the up-and-coming Home Rule Charter form of government.

His first term lasted slightly more than one year, and during that first 12 months, Burgess discovered that the parish was on the verge of financial ruin.

“It sounds like science fiction today to think that this parish was the first county in America to try to declare bankruptcy,” Burgess says, recalling the nearly $4 million deficit he discovered when he walked into office.

Burgess said he never planned to serve eight terms as Parish President.

“I didn’t even enroll in the municipal retirement system,” the former oil man and cattle farmer recalls laughing. “I really thought I’d help get things started here and go back to the oilfield.”

Reality shattered that expectation. Burgess says Tangipahoa’s then-dire financial situation, coupled with the fact that there was nothing in place to “stop the bleeding” and right the parish’s money woes created a challenge he was determined to correct.

“I met with everyone—governors, lawmakers, experts. They were all shocked to see just how bad things were. The parish voted to declare bankruptcy,” Burgess said.

In the end, Burgess said it took a simple, common sense approach—his “Pay As You Go" plan to dig out from under the debt and become a thriving parish.

“We made a conscious decision to live within our means,” Burgess said. And although it took some convincing, the passage of a one-cent sales tax with 75 percent of the proceeds dedicated to roads and bridges and 25 percent toward parish operations paved the way for Tangipahoa to become a strong, financially-sound parish and a model for several other Home Rule Charter governments around the state.

Under Burgess’ leadership, the parish retired its debt and moved forward to build countless major infrastructure improvements, including 812 miles of overlay roads and 201 miles of chip seal/three course. The price tag of those road improvements alone topped $83 million.

“We have made significant progress,” Burgess said. “I am proud to have had a hand in shaping the future of Tangipahoa, and I am grateful not only to the members of the Parish Council, both past and present, as well as my team of employees and also the residents who have shared our vision to work together and improve our parish.”

Burgess is survived by his wife Margaret, their son Wade and his family, and a host of loving family.

Governor John Bel Edwards, a Tangipahoa Parish native son, offered his condolences Wednesday upon learning of Burgess' death.

"For nearly three decades, Gordon Burgess dedicated his life to the people of Tangipahoa Parish and the communities that they call home. He was a dedicated public servant who restored the public's trust back into parish government and led Tangipahoa through its most prosperous times," Gov. Edwards said. "Tangipahoa Parish wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for Gordon Burgess, and our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of this great statesman. Donna and I are praying for Mrs. Margaret and the Burgess family during this time."
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