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Metro Council gives green light for Uber to service airport

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council gave the go-ahead on Wednesday for ride share service Uber Technologies, Inc. to operate out of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport for at least a year.

None of the council members even discussed the measure, as they quickly approved it and moved on. Uber drivers are independent contractors who transport riders in their own vehicles and respond to ride requests via an app on their smart phones.

Cab drivers in the Capital City have been none-too-pleased about their new competition, which started operating over the summer. Their business at the airport is already slow and they often struggle to find riders.

“We already feel the pinch,” said Bennett Mackie, a 76-year-old cab driver who said he’s been driving airport cabs for 40 years. “If they (Uber) come, I don’t know how much of the pie’s left, so to speak.”

In addition to Baton Rouge, Uber has expanded into New Orleans recently as well. 

 

The wait for CATS bus benches drags on to 2015

Bus riders hoping to see covered seating at the bus stops will have to keep on waiting.

About 100 covered, lit bus shelters were promised by the Capital Area Transit System during the 2012 tax election. Currently, many bus stops lack so much as a bench. And few of the bus stops have a covering to protect riders from the elements.

But as of October, only 10 bus shelters are finished, and 30 more are under construction. They are expected to be complete in November. The goal for the remaining 60 bus shelters has now moved for June 2015, and that’s a best case scenario.

Initially, the bus shelters were promised to be completed by March of this year, when the full roll out of new services was unveiled. However, the agency was unable to make the deadline. This year CEO Bob Mirabito said he expected all of the bus shelters to be finished by the end of the year.

Mirabito said his hands are tied because the last batch of shelter construction is being controlled by the state Department of Transportation and Development, because the state controls the state grant funding the work. The other ones were done in house and with the assistance of the city-parish.

Mirabito said he’s requested that CATS take control of the procurement and bidding process to try to expedite construction.

“It’s up to them, we’re trying hard, we know they’re trying hard,” he said. “But it’s their process.”

He said if the shelters aren’t completed by June 2015, then the grants will lose their value. The grant currently only requires a 5 percent local match, but after June, it will change to a 20 percent local match.

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St. George petition verification will be tedious, long process

 

Patrick Dennis

Patrick Dennis

The Registrar of Voters has the herculean task of validating more than 18,200 signatures on a petition seeking a vote on creating the city of St. George.

Initially, St. George organizers wanted 20,000 signatures to create a substantial cushion in case names were tossed on technicalities. But since the required number of signatures dropped to 16,500 (it was adjusted to count the number of registered voters the day the petition was submitted), St. George organizers will still have a healthy overage of signatures.

The process to validate the signatures will take at least a month, said Registrar Elaine Lamb.The extremely tedious work requires looking at each person, checking to ensure the address is actually in the boundaries of the proposed city of St. George, checking to make sure they still live there, and validating the signature by comparing it to signatures on voter registrations and other records.

Lamb said she couldn’t estimate how many signatures are typically tossed during the validation period.

The only comparable petition verification she’s overseen was the City of Central, which required only about 5,000 signatures. Lamb said she expects she’ll have to seek outside help from the Secretary of State’s office for the job.

And the timing couldn’t be worse, since early voting started Tuesday. She said her office won’t even begin the verification process until early voting ends.

If St. George falls short on the number of verified signatures it needs for an election, organizers will have 60 days to make up the difference.

Attorney Mary Olive Pierson, representing the city of Baton Rouge in its fight against St. George, said she questions whether St. George officials gave themselves enough of a room for a “margin of error.”

“Some of those signatures won’t be able to be certified,” she said. “They’ve been trying to get signatures for more than a year now. I’m sure some of those people have died.”

Public meetings scheduled for Baton Rouge Lakes master plan

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is reaching out for public input to help shape the master plan for the University and City Park lakes.

There will be four public meetings. So far, dates have only been set for the first two:

Nov. 6, 2014 – 6-8 p.m. at the LSU E.J. Ourso Business School Auditorium

Dec. 11 – 6-8 p.m. at the LSU Union Cotillion Ballroom

BRAF is spearheading a massive plan to restore the six Baton Rouge lakes, which are too shallow and reverting back to swamp land. The plan will ultimately determine what method will be used to preserve the lakes, and will outline park amenities and landscaping for the land surrounding the lakes.

Residents can also share opinions and ideas anytime at TheLakes.MindMixer.com, an online public engagement platform. More information about the project is also at BatonRougeLakes.org.

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Mary Olive Pierson working Pro Bono on St. George issues

In recent months, Baton Rouge Attorney Mary Olive PiersonMOP has risen as the face of the St. George opposition movement.

Baton Rouge officials defer to her biting comments on St. George issues when approached by the media for comment. Pierson even admitted that she flew to Kansas City recently to convince L’Auberge Casino representatives to join the city of Baton Rouge — a significant financial hit to the St. George proposed budget.

But Pierson’s contract with the city of Baton Rouge is limited to a lawsuit related to the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana, which is being challenged in the appellate court by former legislator and newspaper owner Woody Jenkins.

Her additional efforts to defend the integrity of the parish have not been lost of St. George supporters, who have questioned her motivations and financial backers.

But Pierson said Wednesday she is working pro bono. She noted that several St. George supporters say they are working pro bono including spokesman Lionel Rainey, and attorney Alex St. Amant who is defending Jenkins in the mall suit.

“I have a vital interest in making sure this city I was born in and grew up in continues to flourish,” Pierson said, adding that she stepped into the role to “fill a void.”

Pierson said she paid her own way to Kansas City to meet with the casino representatives and doesn’t get paid despite “spending three meetings a week on this.”

“If I have to give all of my time on this, I might think about doing that,” she said. “They’re stuck with me.”

 

Main Library is all-clear after weekend plumbing problems

People perusing the Main Library on Goodwood Blvd for autumn reads can reenter the library’s teen section after plumbing problems closed it down to patrons Friday.

The library, which has not been open for a full year, had a blockage in its main sewage line Friday. Whatever obstructed the sewage line — officials are still unsure — forced the water to shut off, the bathrooms to close down and the teen section to close because of a drain leakage.

Spencer Watts, library director, said most bathrooms opened again on late Friday and they set up a service desk where library employees could pull books from the teen section  while the room was closed to the public. They cleaned the teen room and confirmed that the library did not have sewage contamination before they restored services, Watts said.

“We don’t want people walking into sewage overflow,” Watts said.

The blockage was unrelated to the ongoing construction of the library’s parking lot, according to Watts. He said blockages have happened in other branches before, mostly due to people flushing things that do not belong in toilets.

 

 

Mike Futrell, former CAO – Where is he now?

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Remember Mike Futrell?

He served as Mayor-President Kip Holden’s top aide from 2009 to 2010 after Walter Monsour left his side.

In 2010, Futrell, a captain in the Navy Reserve, was recalled to active duty for a tour of duty with U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Now, Futrell is back to running local government. The former councilman and state legislator is currently working in South San Francisco as the city manager.  He’s been working there since April of this year.

While serving in Hawaii, Futrell led a crisis team that responded to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. After leaving active duty, Futrell stayed in Hawaii to work for the Hawaii Gas Company.

Scotland independence vs. the St. George incorporation

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Today millions of Scotland voters are headed to the polls to vote on their independence from the United Kingdom.

It would be a stretch to compare the complex and storied Scottish breakaway effort to that of the St. George incorporation, but there are a few noticeable commonalities — the most obvious being that the opponents of Scottish independence have called themselves “Better Together.”

Opponents of the St. George incorporation have also called themselves “Better Together” for the better part of a year in their educational campaign to deter support from the proposed municipality that could draw funds away from the parish budget.

Many of the arguments for and against Scottish independence revolve around economic issues, like taking control of Scottish oil revenue. Also Scotland is more liberal country, which is governed by the conservative UK government.

Similarly, the people in southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish who want to create their own city want control of the sales tax funds generated in their part of the parish, while parish officials argue St. George threatens to create massive financial deficits for the parish. The proposed city is a mostly conservative area that often finds itself crosswise with the more Democrat leaning votes in the City of Baton Rouge.

 

Chauna Banks-Daniel fires off email supporting Parish Attorney: “Do Mary Roper no harm”

Parish Attorney Mary Roper faces the music on Wednesday when she will finally go up against the Metro Council in a hearing to contest her termination.

When the hearing was initially slated for May, Roper had a few allies on the council. But in the past few months — after rejecting a deal for a new city-parish job, making public record requests for Metro Council members’ emails, texts and Facebook messages, suing the council, and attempting to fire her first assistant for “disloyalty” — Roper has certainly lost some votes.

Roper lost her lawsuit asking for a judge to intervene and stop the hearing.

AX179_5265_9On Tuesday, Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, who has a penchant for dramatic emails, fired off a message to the council backing Roper, saying she is unwilling to “alter the course of Mary Roper’s life undeserving,” citing both her faith and her feminism.

“Tomorrow, I am being charged with making a decision regarding a woman’s future,” she wrote. “This is something I do not take lightly. This is something I am in constant prayer about. So far, all I get deep down in my spirit man is this command, “Do Mary Roper no harm.”

Here’s the text from her email:

“All,

     I feel totally un-informed, dis-connected, and ill-prepared to go forth with the hearing to determine Mary Roper’s future as Parish Attorney.  Though, I am not an attorney I have hired a few over time.  I can only reflect on the meetings and communications that occurred with my attorneys and nothing in this case has been even remotely similar. 

     Tomorrow, I am being charged with making a decision regarding a woman’s future.  This is something I do not take lightly. This is something I am in constant prayer about.  So far, all I get deep down in my spirit man is this command, “Do Mary Roper no harm.”  

     Much of my thinking goes back to the many the young girls I have told that they can grow up to be “whatever” they want to be.  Encouraged them that there is No Limit to what they can achieve.  Now I am faced with inserting to girls that one day they may learn their success only cracked the glass ceiling, not shattered it.  Then I think about my own adult son, who hasn’t completely found his way and my constant hope for him to have a fair chance to reach his potential in a career and/or business venture.  Lastly, my thoughts turn to the almost 40 years I have been in the workforce and occasionally faced mistreatment, unfair practices, and a hostile work.  I know what that feels like and I cannot in good conscience do that to another human being.   

     I cannot take Mary Roper’s livelihood and retirement without overwhelming evidence that she is not in this predicament due to wrong motives, selfish desires, and hearing procedures in place that are fair and impartial. 

     There are some things I still want God to bless me and my family with.  As for me, I WILL NOT jeopardize every dream, every vision, every promotion, every healing from coming forth in my life because on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 2:00 p.m., I altered the course of Mary Roper’s life undeserving.  

Please answer the following questions that I should have not had to ask at this late date: 

  1. 1.    Does the MC require a lawyer at Mary Roper’s hearing on tomorrow? If so, who will be the lawyer?
  2. 2.    What is the potential conflict of the MC to have a lawyer (which I assume is representing the wishes of the council), then the MC having a vote? 
  3. 3.    Has the MC attorney had briefings with all 12 of the MC members? Specify yes or no for each member.
  4. 5.    Has the MC attorney required PA staff to provide any information to assist in any aspect of Mary Roper’s legal proceedings? If so, please list those staff members.
  5. 6.    Is the MC being placed in a position to vote against its own attorney?
  6. 7.    What will the MC lawyer’s participation be in Mary Roper’s hearing?
  7. 8.    Should the MC be briefed prior on Mary Roper’s hearing? If so, by whom? 
  8. 9.    What are the potential roles MC members may face on tomorrow? I have no idea what the allegations are against Mary Roper.

10. What are the rules and procedures for tomorrow’s hearing? Will Mary Roper be allowed to resent evidence and arguments used in making a final decision?

11. Will the MC members be allowed to present evidence and arguments used in making a final decision?

12. Will witnesses be allowed to be called by Mary Roper at tomorrow’s hearing?

13. Will the MC members be allowed to be called witnesses at tomorrow’s hearing?

14. Is Mary Roper allowed to speak on her own behalf at tomorrow’s hearing?

15. Are the MC members allowed to speak as part of tomorrow’s hearing?

16. What is the potential for MC to be witnesses at tomorrow’s hearing?

17. What is the potential for PA Staff to be witnesses at tomorrow’s hearing?

18. Has the MC given any potential witnesses advance notice of their potential to be called as a witness in tomorrow’s hearing?  If so, by whom? What method?  Who are these witnesses? How where they selected or what will their testimony produce?

19. Where all MC members consulted regarding potential witnesses, evidence, etc.?

20. Should the MC members have received a copy of the court documents (judgments, etc.) on prior court proceedings?  May the MC members get this information?

21. How should I handle myself in court and questioning witnesses?

22. Is there a time length placed on Mary Roper’s hearing?

23. Is there a time length for any participant’s to speak (witnesses, council member, etc.) at Mary Roper’s hearing?

24. What options are afforded a MC member who may not feel adequately represented, briefed, or informed on procedures for tomorrow’s hearing?

25. What is the potential harm to Mary Roper if the MC removes her as Parish Attorney, besides losing her position?  How will this affect her ability to regain city-parish employment? How much of her retirement is at stake? Please provide exact figures.”

Roper’s hearing starts at 2 p.m. in City Hall.

Jackson, Miss. envious of Baton Rouge’s downtown progress, newspaper reports

Jackson, Miss is apparently looking at Baton Rouge for guidance on how to develop a bustling downtown.

The Clarion-Ledger visited Baton Rouge to observe the downtown Renaissance that’s been in motion for the past several years.

Similar to Jackson’s downtown, Baton Rouge’s downtown was once a vacant ghost town. Davis Rhorer, director of the Downtown Development District, estimated that about $2 billion worth of investment has taken place in recent years downtown.

Rhorer said re-opening historic landmarks like the Old Governor’s Mansion and the Old State Capitol, encouraging state offices to relocate downtown, and encouraging private businesses to take advantage of Tax Increment Financing all helped jump start the economic activity.

While many Baton Rougeans still look at other big city downtowns with envy, a Jackson reporter describes Baton Rouge’s own downtown as a booming cultural epicenter.

“From a growing residential population to a booming hotel industry, Baton Rouge downtown is accomplishing what Jackson leaders have envisioned for the heart of their own city: a renaissance,” the story reads.

Read the story here.