Nextdoor neighbors shout down Lafayette radio host’s ill-advised attempt to throw a public gathering

UPDATE: KPEL Brand Manager Rob Kirkpatrick reached out The Current to clarify the station's position. "I want to make clear her 'invitation' did not reflect the station’s intent and I have made that clear to Carol. We have never and would never advocate for people to gather during this time," he said. "The whole point was to have people go out on their own driveway to 'shine a light' as was written in the Facebook event page. Neighbors are right to have been concerned when they saw the post. I also don’t want to lose sight of the whole purpose which was to thank the healthcare community," Kirkpatrick continued. "I’m disappointed that the comments made by Carol distracted from that." Editor's Note: Ross's post has since been removed from Nextdoor.

The gist: Radio personality Carol Ross took to community app NextDoor to promote a vigil for healthcare workers in River Ranch Town Square, a gathering that would flout Louisiana’s stay-home order at a time when officials up and down the political spectrum are urging the public not to gather. Her Nextdoor neighbors put a stop to it, calling out the conservative talk radio host’s gesture. 

“Everyone’s invited to the River Ranch Town Square Friday evening, 7:30 pm to Shine the Light for healthcare workers,” Ross wrote in a post on Nextdoor Thursday, a reference to her radio station KPEL’s call for everyone to “step out onto their driveways at 7:30 with a form of light. …to show our appreciation for healthcare workers.

“This is a community wide event and we’d like our River Ranch community to join in,” Ross continued. “Bring your phone, a candle whatever and let it shine to show our support for our amazing healthcare workers in Acadiana and Lafayette.” 

Meanwhile, Easter services are canceled across denominations due to rapidly spreading coronavirus. Faith leaders want their congregations home, even as Easter is Christianity’s most theologically significant religious holiday. Catholic Bishop Douglas Deshotel noted in a press conference the extraordinary circumstances that have caused him to suspend public masses for the first time in his 42-year ministry. “This year has to be different,” Deshotel said in his remarks. 

Residents in and out of River Ranch were upset, some outraged. “Exactly who is the Freaking Fool suggesting that everyone meet at RR Town Square????,” wrote River Ranch resident Pat Williamson. “Obviously doesn’t know how to follow directions!”

“As lovely as a community gathering would be in good times or bad, I am personally gobsmacked at this rebellious rally request to ‘come together’ which has been banned,” wrote Jim and Lauri Hardwick, who live in Broadmoor (Ross’s post was apparently set to reach dozens of neighborhoods). “Not to sound overly dramatic but this call to gather (whether in a wealthy neighborhood or good ol’ common Broadmoor) is potentially a criminal act.” 

Ross’s original post, which appeared Thursday on the Nextdoor app and was apparently viewed by 43 area neighborhoods, has since been removed.

Lesley Maxwell noted that Ross’s action played into stereotypes of her and her neighbors. “Considering the ‘elitist’ brand/reputation that the neighborhood has, this will only antagonize people because ‘River Ranch’ doesn’t have to follow the rules that everyone else does. We do not need this!”

Darrellyn Burts, another River Ranch resident, was a bit more diplomatic. “It sets a horrible example to us that are trying to follow the mandate, and to our children,” Burts wrote. “I am having food delivered to the hospitals and am helping to pay for another ventilator so I definitely see the need to thank them. This idea tho goes against what my doctor friends are saying so it’s really a slap in their face.”

Through the pandemic, Ross has messaged that “common sense” is sufficient to manage the outbreak. “Anyone who is uncomfortable with the concept can stay away,” she replied in a thread defending the gathering. “I just think we should be able to social distance appropriately while showing community support.”

“Your history in the public eye is impressive Carol, your husband’s as well,” the Hardwicks went on to say. “You seem like an educated, common sense woman. Please consider taking a breath, reflect, then delete this dangerous public request.” 

Ross’s gathering isn’t going to happen. River Ranch Community Association Manager Natalie Vidrine wasted no time shutting it down. “Security is on their way to let her know it cannot happen,” Vidrine told The Current in an emailed response. “The square is private property and she did not reserve it through the HOA or The Institute. We will also have security out in the square tomorrow to send anyone home who may show up.”

We emailed Ross for further comment. “Check my post on Nextdoor,” she responded. 

In the meantime, here’s how KPEL explains we can all — safely — show the love to thousands of area health care workers who are risking their lives to save ours. “Take a picture of your light, share your light, go live on Facebook, look around your neighborhood to see your neighbors doing it too, so that you know we are all connected, even if we are apart. Post it on our ‘Share the Light’ event page so that these healthcare workers will know we appreciate their sacrifices.”

About the Author

A founding editor of both The Independent and ABiz and senior editor at The Times of Acadiana in the 1990s, Leslie Turk has worked in the newspaper business in Lafayette for almost three decades. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Acadiana Advocate and Gambit. Email her at [email protected]

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