A Lake Charles native, Willie Landry Mount is proud to call Southwest Louisiana home. She is a graduate of McNeese State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. In 2016 she was awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by McNeese State University.
In 1993, Willie was elected the first female Mayor of Lake Charles. After serving over 6 and a half years as Mayor, Willie became the first woman elected as a Louisiana State Senator from District 27 in 1999.
Willie currently serves on the Library Board of Control for the Calcasieu Parish Public Library, Lakeside Bank Board of Directors, Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors, Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana Board of Directors, Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Board of Directors, McNeese State University Foundation Board of Directors, President of the Boy Scouts of America-Calcasieu Area Council and Chair of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Board of Directors.
Pilar Blanco Eble is the Director of Principal Gifts and External Relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She works with donors and community partners interested in strategic investments to advance university priorities. Previously, she served as the Associate Director of the International Student Program at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where she was the designated SEVIS representative and worked to expand international partnerships around the globe. Prior to her time in Minnesota, Pilar worked in university advancement at The University of Mississippi and Tulane University. Pilar earned her bachelor's degree from UL Lafayette, her master’s degree from the University of Mississippi and is current doctoral student at UL Lafayette working on Ed.D. in higher education administration.
Pilar is married to Michael Eble, and has 4 children Ben Michael, Eli, Miles and Oliver. Pilar is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and serves on the Building Campaign Committee, and member of the Falcons Club for the Episcopal School of Acadiana.
Kathy Kliebert is retired as the representative of the Louisiana Medicaid Managed Care Organization Association providing legislative and consulting services for the five Medicaid health plans in Louisiana. Prior to this role she served as Secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals from March 2013 to January 2016 after a long-term career in public service in Louisiana. She was been a leader in the Department for more than 28 years, where she led efforts to promote independent living for individuals with developmental disabilities and transform behavioral health care services for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents. Prior to her appointment as Secretary, Kliebert served as the Department’s Deputy Secretary, where she provided leadership to the agency’s program offices, including the Offices for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, Behavioral Health, Public Health, and Aging and Adult Services.
She has over 26 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker and has a master's degree in social work. She currently serves as chair of the Bridge Center for Hope, serves as past chair of the Louisiana Educational Television Board.
Ms. Kliebert has been married for 41 years, has three children and seven grandchildren.
Born and raised in Natchitoches, I am a graduate of Northwestern State University and Louisiana State University/Baton Rouge (B.S. Business/Marketing), as well as real estate courses including residential appraisal courses. Married to Kevin Bolton, we have three children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild. I am a former employee of NSU, Louisiana Department of Urban and Community Affairs in Baton Rouge, Twin Valley RC&D (USDA/NRCS eight parish program), and the City of Natchitoches Community Development Department.
Many will remember me as co-owner of Manning Mini-Storage on Keyser Avenue for ten years. However, selling real estate had been my goal for many years. With my children raised, I established Bolton Realty in 2006. In 2017, I was able to purchase Collins and Stamey Real Estate, a long-standing leader in the Natchitoches market, which allowed us to continue growing.
I believe that we all have a role in building strong communities. In addition to serving as the City Planning Commissioner, I have served as President of Cane River Children Services; LA School for Math, Science & the Arts Parents Organization; Keep Natchitoches Beautiful, and am a member of Natchitoches/NSU Symphony Society, Natchitoches Historic Foundation, Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and PEO Chapter AP. Recently became a founding member of Ellevate LA, a statewide group working to empower the voice of the women of Louisiana.
Serving as 2016 Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors was part of seven years on the BOD. Worked for the creation of annual luncheon for members comparable to the State of the Union, reporting on local economic conditions and trends. Worked on Task Force then first Chairman of the Natchitoches Community Alliance. Worked to re-establish the Education Committee which grew into the A+ Coalition. The transition from Christmas Festival to a functioning Chamber focusing on member services was a challenge but I believe it was worth the effort.
For my professional organizations, I served as LA Realtors PAC Trustee 2012-2014 and the 2013-2014 President of Natchitoches Board of Realtors. In 2015, served as LA Realtors (LR) Assn Regional Vice President. Voted Member-At-Large by LR Assn Board for 2016-2019. Served on Task Force to merge Central LA and Natchitoches local Boards into Greater Central LA Realtor Assn (GCLRA). Voted 2018 GCLRA Realtor of the Year (9 parishes) and 2019 Louisiana Realtor of the Year. Served as LR Association Member Services and Marketing Director in 2019. Also served 2017-2018 on GCLRA MLS Committee and 2018 Chair of Governance Committee. Member of LR Mandatory Forms and Bill Review Committees. Previously served on LR Appraisal, Legislative and Strategic Planning committee. Completed LR Leadership in 2015.
I am proud to provide full service to buyers and sellers in and around historic Natchitoches. Being able to do what I am so passionate about for a living is such a blessing.
Cassie founded Shoreline Strategies, LLC in late 2015 after spending over a decade working in national, local and state politics. She has worked at all levels of government – from presidential campaigns to party committees, from City Hall to Capitol Hill. And she has experience in every facet of the political landscape – from digital strategy to copywriting, from political consulting to fundraising, from writing legislation to influencing policy.
Prior to starting her own business, Cassie served as the Senior Digital Marketing Specialist for Email at the Republican National Committee, the Senior Digital Strategist and Speechwriter at the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Lead Digital Political Copywriter on the Romney for President Campaign. In each of these roles, Cassie led the copywriting production from start to send, helped build the email marketing and online fundraising programs, and set fundraising records. She was the first true political digital copywriter for the GOP.
Before embarking on the national political scene, Cassie served as a consultant and lobbyist. She got her start in national politics on Capitol Hill, while working as a legislative staffer for the Congressman of the New Orleans area on Hurricane Katrina, BP Oil Spill, health care, postal service, veterans affairs, and other issues. Prior to working on Capitol Hill, Cassie worked on city and state campaigns in Louisiana.
Cassie is a proud New Orleans native and alumna of St. Mary’s Dominican High School and Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication. She has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a concentration in Political Communication and a minor in Leadership Development. In 2007, Cassie was elected Student Body President of LSU, and she served on the LSU Board of Supervisors and other state-wide boards.
She enjoys helping other businesses succeed, doing pro bono work, volunteering, networking, and mentoring young professionals, particularly women.
Rachael Averett joined Advantous as a Senior Manager in the Sales and Use Tax practice in 2021. Rachael has practiced in Indirect Tax for the last 22 years in Texas and Louisiana. Rachael previously served as an Associate at a public accounting firm and within industry for a multi-state manufacturer. She also served as Director at an international tax consulting firm for the last eleven years. Rachael specializes in multi-state sales and use tax audit defense and reverse audits, with expansive experience in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. Rachael received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Finance from Louisiana State University. She serves as a member of Council on State Taxation (COST), Southeastern Association of Tax Administrators (SEATA), and Certified Member of Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT). She has also presented for IPT, Tax Executives Institute, Inc. (TEI), and Lorman Education Services.
Valerie Aymond is the CRO (Chief Resource Officer) for Gilchrist Construction Company, a Louisiana-based heavy highway contractor. Her oversight includes the company’s resource divisions, including Human Resources, Information Technology, Organizational Development, Safety & Risk Management, Transportation, and Equipment.
Val is a 1995 graduate of Louisiana State University at Alexandria where she majored in Business Administration. She is a graduate of the ABA National & Graduate School of Human Resources at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Val returned to the classroom and graduated Summa Cum Laude in May 2015 from Louisiana Tech University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Project Team Management.
Valerie holds several Human Resource designations; she is a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SCP), and is a Certified DDI (Development Dimensions International) Instructor.
Val served on the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors from 2013-2017, and chaired the Chamber Board in 2016. She is active in the Central Louisiana economic development community and serves as a board member and also on the Executive Committee for (CLEDA) Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. She began service as a Board of Trustees member for the Rapides Foundation in January of 2020.
Val is also a board member for the Rapides Workforce Investment Board and was appointed by the governor to serve as a member of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council in 2017. She is a member of the Central Louisiana Technical and Community College Institutional Advisory Committee, a member of the Alexandria Downtown Rotary Club, and serves as a Secretary of the Rapides Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees.
As the leader of DDA and DLU, Anita works with Downtown stakeholders, developers, government representatives, and community leaders to create a stronger and more dynamic Downtown for Lafayette. Before joining Downtown Lafayette, Anita worked as the Senior Vice President of Communications and Governmental Affairs with One Acadiana, and she has been actively involved in Lafayette leadership organizations like Leadership Institute of Acadiana and the 705. She currently serves as a board member of South Louisiana Community College Foundation and CASA of SoLA. Anita understands the regional importance of a vibrant urban core and she works to provide a strategic vision for leaders in Lafayette to utilize and grow Downtown as a flagship district for culture and commerce in Acadiana.
Fun fact: Anita is originally from Church Point, Louisiana and has lived her entire life within a 20 mile radius of the heart of our city. As Herman Fuselier likes to say, “It takes a girl from Church Point to run Downtown Lafayette!”
Charmaine Caccioppi serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and oversees United Way’s Governmental Relations and Community Impact departments. She is responsible for the development and implementation of the government relations strategies related to United Way’s three goal areas, including education, income and health, through the development of relationships with key internal and external constituents.
She currently serves as Chair of the Louisiana Women’s Policy & Research Commission, chair of Education’s Next Horizon, and as a board member for the Bureau of Governmental Research, Louisiana Budget Project, and New Orleans Family Justice Center.
Her many accomplishments, include, but are not limited to, securing a $90,000 United Way Worldwide grant for the purpose of establishing a United Ways of the Gulf Coast and championing state legislation that ensured High Quality Childcare Standards, School Readiness Tax Credits, the establishment of the Child Poverty Prevention Council and the first refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the South.
Mrs. Caccioppi advocated for the successful historical passage of Domestic Violence bills signed into Louisiana law aimed at stopping domestic abuse and in 2016 is featured in the award winning Five Awake –Domestic Violence documentary film. Historical passage of domestic violence bills was made again in 2017 and in 2018 including gun divesture!
Mrs. Caccioppi was inducted into the Louisiana Center for Women in Government and Business Hall of Fame in 2014. She received the Libby Milton Champion for Children Award in 2016 and Crimestoppers’ George Loker Community Service Award in 2017.
During her 20 years of service with the United States Senate, Mrs. Caccioppi served Senators J. Bennett Johnston then Mary Landrieu, working on major economic development projects throughout Louisiana and Nationwide, including: transportation infrastructure development for ports, airport, highways and railroads; defense and university research projects; flood control and hurricane protection projects; natural resources research; major federal procurement for several federal agencies.
Jaye Calhoun is a partner in the New Orleans office of Kean Miller. She joined the firm in 2017 and practices in the tax group. Jaye provides clients with full-service tax representation covering federal, state, and local tax challenges and business opportunities. She has more than 25 years of experience and assists her clients with tax compliance and planning, guidance on the use of tax and business incentives, and represents clients in tax audits and controversies. She regularly represents clients in audits and administrative and judicial appeals before the IRS, the State of Louisiana Department of Revenue, and numerous local taxing authorities. Jaye is board certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization in both Taxation and in Estate Planning.
Jaye has been listed for a decade as one of the Best Lawyers in America (2007-2021), and in Louisiana Super Lawyers (2007-2020). She is AV-rated preeminent by Martindale-Hubble. She has been recognized in 1999 as a YWCA Role Model, by New Orleans City Business as a 2005 Woman of the Year and selected as a 2014 recipient of a Leadership in Law award. Jaye was also recognized by New Orleans Magazine as a Top Lawyer in 2012, 2016 and 2020. She was also recognized as a Top Woman Attorney by Louisiana Super Lawyers in 2020. She was elected as a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel (ACTC) in 2017 and she was accepted into the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation (ABF) in 2019. In 2015, TaxAnalysts profiled Jaye in that publication’s, “State Tax Spotlight.”
Jaye is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Tulane University Law School, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston (online program). She is also a guest lecturer at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C.
An accomplished visionary with a focus on results and a stellar track record for leading companywide optimization, Monique Robinson Clark has been helping healthcare companies enhance their operational development and progression for more than 15 years. As Director of Clinical Operations, she leverages her excellent strategic planning and implementation, program development and change management skills to ensure successful outcomes for both patients and team members at LSU Healthcare Network.
Prior to joining LSU Healthcare Network, Monique was an Associate Consultant for Corcoran Consulting Group and the Director of Operations for SEECA Inc. In both capacities, Monique’s stewardship of improved workflows, processes, procedures, quality control and marketing initiatives precipitated increased client and patient satisfaction as well as a significant boost in revenue generation.
Monique is as dedicated to building better community as she is to her work in the healthcare industry. Among several organizations to which she contributes her time and resources, she is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Inc. and a member of the Board of Directors for Bayou Community Academy Charter School in Thibodaux. Most recently, Monique participated in the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute Class of 2018 and Leadership Louisiana Class of 2020.
Possessing a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and an MBA in Healthcare Management, Monique is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2015-2016 Rotary Club of Houma-Terrebonne Rookie of the Year Award and the 2017 Dillard University 40 Under 40 Award. Monique is also a published author, a much sought-after public speaker and a course presenter and panelist for the 2019 ASCRS/ASOA Annual International Conference. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, Zumba, and spending time with her husband.
Donna D. Fraiche, founder and president of Fraiche Strategies, LLC, recently retired from forty-five years in the active practice of health law. Utilizing vast experience gained from a lifetime of focused client representation and governance positions, she has formed a consulting firm for client-focused strategic policy, health care policy and facilitation.
Having founded her own law firm in the 1970’s, Donna practiced thereafter at a number of national law firms throughout her legal career. She retired from Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz in 2020.
Donna currently serves on the boards of three publicly traded companies where she holds roles ranging from lead independent director to committee chair of multiple committees.
Donna is also co-owner and co-manager of River Regional Properties, II, III, LLC, Fraiche Family, LTD, LLC, Nola Wine Merchant, LLC, and additional small and real estate holding businesses.
Julie Schwam Harris
Julie Schwam Harris is a New Orleans native, educated in New Orleans Public Schools and a Summa Cum Laude graduate from Newcomb College of Tulane University. She worked in City Government for 16 years, including the first five post Katrina recovery years, and has led and participated in numerous political campaigns. She does part-time consulting and is a volunteer advocate on women’s and human rights issues.
Julie believes that grass roots action and advocacy matter, and that individuals should not only work to elect candidates who support their issues but also communicate with elected officials after they take office. She helped organize the Legislative Agenda for Women (LAW) coalition, which advocates on issues related to women and families predominantly at the state Legislature. Issues include access to health care; economic security policies regarding equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, affordable quality child care, paid sick and family leave and sexual harassment; comprehensive sex education and solutions to violence against women.
Governor John Bel Edwards appointed Julie to the Louisiana Women’s Policy and Research Commission in 2016.Julie is a member and supporter of numerous local, state and national civic, rights and advocacy organizations.
In honor of her work in government and with organizations that seek to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all, Julie was named the 2015 recipient of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Hannah G. Solomon Award and the 2016 recipient of the ACLU Ben Smith Civil Liberties Award. She has also received the Newcomb Alumnae Association Community Service Award and was an honoree of the New Orleans Family Justice Center and the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. – Epsilon Sigma Chapter.
Dr. Johnette Magner is a communications professional with more than 30 years of experience in broadcast and print journalism, public relations, politics, governmental affairs, and higher education. She is currently the Executive Director of External Affairs and an Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Studies at Louisiana Tech University and has a faculty appointment as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at LSU Health Shreveport.
Dr. Magner is a frequent speaker on Digital Wellness and was a contributor to the recently published Digital Wellness: Your playbook for Thriving in the Remote Work Era. Along with her husband, Dr. Tim Magner, she is the founder of Digital Habits 2.0, a company providing Digital Wellness information and products.
She received a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas in 1989, a Master of Arts from Louisiana State University at Shreveport in 1996, and a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2001.
Markey W. Pierré, DBA Vice Chancellor of External Affairs and Chief of Staff, at LSU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Markey Pierré’s lifetime commitment to professional excellence, community service, and good public policy has led to substantive progress for the State of Louisiana in many areas, including K-12 and higher education, construction, health care, maritime law, and municipal government. During her 20 plus year career as a successful business owner and executive, author, motivational speaker, lobbyist, and adjunct professor, Dr. Pierré’s philosophy of inclusive leadership resulted in pioneering legislation that has had far-reaching positive consequences for generations to come. For the past 13 years, Dr. Pierré championed the interest of her clients as the President and Managing partner of Southern Strategy Group of North Louisiana, a full-service governmental consulting firm based in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dr. Pierré has been extremely successful in building partnerships across different ideologies, sometimes bridging deep divides to drive public policies that benefited everyone involved. Her client list ran the gambit from Fortune 500 corporations to school boards to gaming and entertainment venues, municipal entities, and professional and trade associations. In this role, Dr. Pierré cemented her reputation as a powerful force and highly effective advocate to have on one’s team. Staying true to form, Dr. Pierré has taken on another opportunity to have an essential impact on the community and corporate sectors with her fundamental skills for success. In her new role as the Vice Chancellor of External Affairs and Chief of Staff for Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Dr. Pierré is the point of contact for critical initiatives and responsible for the development and implementation of the strategic agenda to represent both organizational and operational initiatives.
Using this platform, she provides effective communication and guidance as it relates to external affairs reaching local, state, and federal agencies. In partnership with the senior leadership for LSU Health Shreveport, Dr. Pierré leads the planning of strategic initiatives to ensure there is diversity and inclusion in recruitment and retention of groups underrepresented in healthcare. Throughout her professional career, Dr. Pierré has earned numerous honors for her professional excellence and unwavering commitment to community service. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Business woman of the Year Award for Shreveport-Bossier African American Chamber of Commerce and was named one of the Top Businesswomen in Shreveport Bossier by SB Magazine. Dr. Pierré is also a recipient of the prestigious Virginia K. Shehee Most Influential Woman Award and she broke barriers by becoming the first African American woman to chair the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and the Independence Bowl of Shreveport.
Susannah Walter Poljak is an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in a wide range of practice areas from complex contract litigation to intellectual property. She has been admitted to practice in three states—California, New York, and Louisiana. She is currently an early childhood consultant with Step Forward of North Louisiana, which has created a community-wide leadership group that is working to foster and promote healthy early childhood development. In addition. Ms. Poljak is a member of the Leadership Louisiana 2020 class and serves on boards supporting the arts and education in Caddo Parish. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University and a Juris Doctorate from Fordham University.
Deborah Randolph, IOM is the President of the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, a position she has held since August of 2011. During her tenure, the 1,200-member organization based in Alexandria, earned accreditation by the U.S. Chamber at the highest level, with 5 Star Distinction. Deborah serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, Louisiana Military Advisory Council, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children Board, LA State University of Alexandria Foundation Board, Rapides Regional Medical Center Board and is the Past President of the LA Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. She is a member of the Alexandria Rotary Club and is a Paul Harris Fellow.
Jackie Farnsworth Shreves is a lifelong resident of New Orleans. In her professional life, she was active in local political campaigns as campaign manager and in a number of volunteer positions. She served as the Development/Capital Campaign Director at the Academy of the Sacred Heart and is a former real estate agent.
As a civic activist, she has served on several non-profit boards and been involved in numerous political campaigns and legislative issues both at the state and local level. She served on the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for 10 years and served two years on the Human Relations Commision. She was co-founder of the Parents’ Coalition, an organization founded to lobby on behalf of children’s issues. She is a past board member of the St. Pius X Mother’s Club, Volunteer and Information Agency, the Parents’ Council, the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the Maison Hospitaliere, the Lake Vista Property Association, New Orleans City Park Improvement Association, Co-Founder of NOLA City Bark, and chaired the New Orleans Citizens Advisory Task Force on Dog Parks. She served on the Boards of the Louisiana SPCA, Friends of City Park, the LA-SPCA Foundation, the NOLA City Bark, and Citizens for One, Education Committee. She served as chair of the Impact 100 -Women’s Advisory Committee.
In an effort to reform the Orleans Parish Accessors office post Katrina, she ran as a member of the IQ Team to reduce the number of assessors to One.
She has chaired and served on committees of several major fundraising events throughout the city including chairing the LA-SPCA’s Howling Success and co-chair Lark in the Park, in addition to serving on capital campaigns for several organizations including Son of a Saint.
She currently serves as co-chair of the LA-SPCA Advocacy Council, co-chair of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church DEI committee, board member of Friends of City Park, leadership committee of NOW LOVE, board member of the Maison Hospitaliere Foundation and Impact 100 Advisory Committee. She is a member of EllevateLA , 10,000 Women and other womens’ organizations.
She has been recognized as a 1995 YWCA Role Model, the Phillipine Duchesne Award at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, 2008 New Orleans’ Magazine People to watch and received the President’s Award from New Orleans City Park and the Dorothy Dorset Brown Humanitarian Award from the LA-SPCA.
She is married to H. Bruce Shreves and has three grown children, two grandchildren and one shelter dog, Maui. In her spare time, she plays tennis and occasional golf and a frequent Jazzercize participant.
Libbie Sonnier, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children where she leverages 20 years of professional experience supporting young children and their families. Recognized for her tenacity and deep commitment to children, Dr. Sonnier has led teams in system-wide initiatives for the betterment of children, families, caregivers, and practitioners. In her first two years with the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, she helped secure $18M in new early care and education funding in the Louisiana budget, three new sources of recurring state revenue to expand access to quality early care and education, and guided the use of more than $300M in federal COVID relief dollars to stabilize child care. She also has doubled the organization’s research and media engagement outputs and grown its staff while securing the organization’s first seven figure grant, and nearly doubling its annual revenues.
Prior to taking on leadership of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in 2019, she served as a state director of two federal programs, where she managed multi-million-dollar budgets. She developed and implemented pilot programs for children, birth to age five, in four states across multiple agencies and community partners to improve the efficiency and efficacy of direct services for children and their families. Dr. Sonnier’s experiences conducting longitudinal and experimental research allow her to translate scientific findings into meaningful and practical policies that support better life outcomes for children. She is coauthor of multiple publications and technical reports, training curricula, and, with Drs. Sharon and Craig Ramey, The Four Diamonds Checklist and The Quality System to Achieve Results for Young Children in all Settings (Q-STAR).
Dr. Sonnier is the recipient of the Hulick Serving Spirit Fellowship Award for her commitment to individuals with disabilities across the life course, the Rotary Club’s Extraordinary Woman “Rising Star” Award, a New Orleans City Business 2020 Women of the Year honoree, a 2020 Leadership Louisiana participant, and was named one of 16 Women Paving the Way for Louisiana’s Future by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana in 2021. Dr. Sonnier received a Doctor of Philosophy in human development from Virginia Tech, a Master of Education in early childhood intervention and family support services from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Science in special education with an emphasis in early childhood intervention from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Amanda Spain Wells
Ms. Wells focuses her practice primarily on real estate financing and affordable housing. She has extensive experience in structuring all types of real estate financing transactions for borrowers, lenders and investors, focusing on all forms of state and federal tax credits (LIHTC, NMTC, HRTC), CDBG, HOME and other federal funding programs. Following the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she worked closely with a diverse group of private and public entities to create and implement the now HUD recommended program for the use of public funds for affordable housing projects. Ms. Wells successfully closed more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in publicly funded loans for more than 100 projects in devastated areas of Louisiana.
Ms. Wells is also engaged in drafting land use restrictions and creating blueprints for new mixed-use, residential and commercial developments throughout Louisiana, including traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs). Furthermore, she focuses on negotiating loan documents, bank financing and refinancing transactions as both lender and borrower counsel.
As part of the Firm's Cruise Industry Practice, Ms. Wells works with vessel owners to obtain docking rights along the Mississippi River, negotiating leases and license rights with private and public entities, as well as providing title services. Her work with governmental entities ranges from small towns to state economic development offices, and she is familiar with many incentives available to vessel owners and operators seeking to develop riverfront docking areas along the Mississippi.
Jessica Starns is a founding Partner at Starns Kenny & Easterling, LLC, where she maintains a niche practice providing governmental affairs (lobbying), business formation and licensing, regulatory compliance, and legal services to breweries, distilleries, CBD producers, wholesalers, e-commerce platforms, hotels, special event organizers, and alcohol, tobacco, CBD, and vape retailers. Jessica’s clients enjoy the benefit of her expertise in navigating state and local legislative processes, and federal, state, and local regulatory processes. She is an active member of the Louisiana State Bar Association and numerous industry organizations including, the National Association of State Liquor Administrators, the National Association of Licensing and Compliance Professionals, and the Association of Louisiana Lobbyists. She is a member of the board of directors for Ellevate Louisiana.
Jessica served as the managing partner of Jessica Starns Attorney at Law, LLC, a boutique governmental affairs and law firm, for six years prior to forming Starns Kenny & Easterling, LLC. She has also previously served as the executive counsel for the Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control, special counsel to the commissioner of the Louisiana Division of Administration, and special counsel to the governor of Louisiana on budget, tax, commerce, and alcoholic beverage legislation. Jessica frequently speaks on alcohol and tobacco policy at national industry association conferences and has drafted and played an instrumental role in the passage of numerous legislative instruments.
During her time of government service, Jessica played a vital role in converting a $500,000 agency deficit to over a $1.2M surplus by developing and implementing solutions to increase productivity and initiating technological advancements. She also successfully developed and implemented methods to enhance customer service and maximize resources by establishing sound policies and training programs, simplifying bureaucratic processes, eliminating wasteful practices, and leading initiatives to work with various state and local departments to combine duplicative regulatory procedures. She was honored as "Division Star" out of hundreds of employees for demonstrating exceptional personal performance standards.
Jessica is obtained her Juris Doctorate from Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law where she was appointed to the Honor Council, was a research assistant in the area of administrative law and was a member of the Tax Law Society and Public Interest Law Foundation. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University with a double major in sociology and mass communications. Jessica resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband Brian, a firefighter, and their son Dax.
Mary-Patricia Wray, founder of Top Drawer Strategies, is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.A.) and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law (J.D.). Before moving to Louisiana from Ohio in 2008, she worked for Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, later head of the Consumer Affairs Protection Agency. After focusing on constitutional law and administrative procedures in law school, MP, as she is affectionately known, put her knowledge to good use at the Louisiana Capitol. In 2012, she began representing clients focused on improving their communities by investing in public education and increasing access to high quality healthcare. She also works on policy issues surrounding criminal justice reform, healthcare delivery systems, economic development, multimodal transportation, coastal transportation, affordable energy, finance and tax issues, non-profit advocacy and local and municipal government. MP is an adjunct professor of law at Tulane Law School in New Orleans where she teaches Legislative and Administrative Advocacy focusing on legislative drafting and agency rule making.
Her expertise in messaging to moderate voters, and ability to persuade women voters, has led her to win three statewide campaigns in five years. MP served as one of the only staffers in the early years of John Bel Edwards’ 2015 campaign, securing victory for the only Democratic statewide elected official in Louisiana and the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Her award winning advocacy contributed to another upset victory, 2018’s “Yes on 2” ballot initiative to erase one of Louisiana’s last remaining Jim Crow era laws and require the use of unanimous juries. She also led the successful statewide “No on 5” campaign, against payments in lieu of taxes, and the Foster Campbell for Public Service Commission campaign, a 24 parish race, in 2020.
Mary-Patricia serves her community through volunteer leadership in Girl Scouts Louisiana East as a lifetime member of Girl Scouts USA, having earned her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting as a member of Buckeye Trails Girl Scout Council Troop #1567. She is a member of the BREC Foundation Board, chairing its public relations committee and focusing on work to reinvest in the life and health of the greater Baton Rouge community. She is involved in the Tulane and Loyola University communities, working to promote public interest as the highest good in every curriculum. She is the proud mother of Henry Lee and Weber Wray and resides in Baton Rouge with her husband, Ira.