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Better Together questions WBRZ reporter’s ethics for signing St. George petition, reporting on issue

 

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The anti-St. George group Better Together called out WBRZ reporter Chris Nakamoto for what they are characterizing as a breach of journalism ethics because he signed the St. George petition while continuing to report on the issue.

” Last night, WBRZ reporter Chris Nakamoto ran another in a long line of inaccurate stories on St. George. That makes it time that WBRZ dealt with an issue they should have addressed a long time ago — a matter of basic journalistic ethics,” Better Together wrote on its website.

One of the stories the group claimed was inaccurate involved what Nakamoto described as a cheating scandal in the East Baton Rouge parish School system, an account that was widely circulated by St. George leaders during their campaign. On Tuesday evening, he had a story that reviewed arguments by St. George leaders who have filed a lawsuit to overturn the Registrar of Voter’s determination that the petition was short of signatures to hold an election to create a city.

Nakamoto issued the following statement to The Advocate:

“As a property owner in the area that may have been affected by the petition, I believed when I signed it then and believe now that the greatest thing in our democracy is to allow people to decide. People should get the facts and be allowed to vote if the petition succeeded.  That’s why I signed it. News management was aware and insisted on several things:  I’ve never contributed any volunteer time, money or signage to the St. George issue. Any stories, whether by me or others at WBRZ, are always reviewed by news managers. I am confident that we have consistently reported both sides of the issue in a fair and balanced manner.The incorporation drive was not about me and shouldn’t be.”

Nakamoto and his wife signed the petition on Oct. 27th, 2013, early in the signature gathering process.

Better Together cites the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics that says journalists should avoid political involvement, conflicts of interest and to remain free of associations that that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Old St. George Facebook post about petition contradicts their own legal challenge to Registrar

St. George fbA Facebook post from April, shows St. George leaders told residents they couldn’t sign the incorporation petition unless they had been registered to vote in the area before Oct. 20, 2014 — the day the first phase of the petition was turned in to the Registrar of Voters.

This is in direct contrast to the crux of their own legal challenge, filed in state court on Friday, where St. George leaders argue that the petition to incorporate should have been validated because names were erroneously thrown out from people who weren’t registered to vote by that date. They now say there’s nothing in state law that required voters to be registered by the date the petition was turned in.

On April 13, a resident asked the group on its official public website if she could sign the petition. St. George responded, “You must have been registered in the proposed St. George limits before Oct. 20 of last year to sign. However, you will definitely be able to vote! Just make sure you register to vote.”

The group has since had a critical change of heart.

The petition was killed when the Registrar determined that it came up 71 names short of the 17,859 needed to move forward to an election.

If you signed the petition but were not registered to vote, and you didn’t register to vote by Oct. 20, 2014, then the Registrar excluded your signature.

Also, if you signed the second phase of the petition, turned in on May 28, but you weren’t registered to vote before Oct. 20, 2014, your name was also excluded, the suit says.

St. George attorneys are advocating that there is nothing in state law that requires that people be registered to vote by that date, as long as they eventually registered to vote. They say people who eventually registered to vote should have their names counted, and they maintain that there are enough of those instances that it would have allowed the petition to move forward to the next phase.

 

Firefighters, city-parish in standoff over retirement plan

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The Baton Rouge Fire Department and city-parish are struggling to reach an agreement over retirement plans. The city-parish wants firefighters to be a minimum of 50 years old to be eligible for full retirement. ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO.

Baton Rouge’s firefighters are in a standoff with the city government over a retirement plan that would make the firefighters’ minimum age to receive full retirement 50.

The Metro Council, which has to approve the revamped retirement plan, has deferred action on it twice now. On Wednesday, a vote to approve the retirement plan failed and council members said they would not approve it until the city-parish leaders met with the fire union.

Shane Spillman, the head of the fire union, said the minimum retirement age of 50 will hurt young firefighters who start working when they are 18 years old. He said the age requirement will force them to work extra years for a full retirement without receiving additional benefits.

William Daniel, the city-parish’s chief administrative officer, rebutted Spillman’s claims. He said the retirement changes will only affect new hires and that employees would still get extra benefits for the years they worked.

Daniel also noted that the Fire Department has not hired an 18 year old since 2007 and that they have only hired a few 19 year olds in the past several years.

The disagreement stems from an overhaul of the city-parish’s pay scale, which the Metro Council approved in March. All city-parish employees received pay raises of at least 2 percent, which the firefighters, police officers and Department of Public Works employees had spent years pushing for.

Firefighter raises graphic

The pay raise was only part of the revisions to the pay structure, though. The retirement changes were another component.

Daniel said the fire union knew when they agreed to the pay plan changes that their retirement system was going to change, even though it was not in their contracts.

“When we put this together, we did it on the good faith that it would be approved,” Daniel told the Metro Council at the June 10 meeting. “…They want to change the game after the fact.”

Spillman asked the Metro Council at both meetings not to approve the retirement changes until he had time to meet with the city-parish leaders. He said the firefighters never agreed to go along with the retirement changes.

“We’ve objected to this since day one,” he said.

The Metro Council members deferred approving the retirement plan on June 10 and asked Daniel to meet with the firefighters before the June 24 meeting.

Spillman told the Metro Council on Wednesday that he had asked to meet with the city-parish and never heard back.

Daniel the city-parish crunched the numbers and determined that the city-parish could not afford to change the retirement system to the plan the firefighters wanted. He said the city-parish would have to change the retirement plan for all city employees if they gave into the firefighters.

Doing so would cost the city-parish an extra $95 million in unfunded liability, which Daniel said the city-parish cannot afford.

Still, the Metro Council members said they wanted Daniel to meet with the fire union before they approved the retirement changes.

“My vote to defer was that you got with the union to once again discuss what their issues were,” said Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel. “…It’s somewhat disrespectful to not have a meeting.”

Daniel said that the city-parish and fire union were “way too far apart” on the retirement plan. He said after the meeting that he plans to meet with Spillman before the next Metro Council meeting in late July.

Disorganized Metro Council abruptly ends meeting because of lack of quorum

On Wednesday, the Baton Rouge Metro Council, suffering from disorganization and low attendance, lost its quorum and ended a meeting to handle the city-parish’s business after about 40 minutes of work.

However, there was no legal requirement that they end the meeting.

The council heard only two items of its list of several dozens to accept grants, appropriate funds and execute contracts related to city-parish operations. The council meets twice a month for such business, but is about to take a month long hiatus for summer break. The next scheduled meeting is July 22.

Gail Grover, an assistant chief administrative officer for Mayor President Kip Holden, said the council’s inaction puts them in a tight time line to receive federal grant funds used for low income housing and housing for people with HIV/AIDS.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer, said there was also a time sensitive federal grant related to plans for the Nicholson Trolley, that was supposed to be taken up on the agenda.
Neither grant opportunity is dead, the staff members said, but the inaction has complicated their timelines.

The council members in attendance were Chauna Banks-Daniel, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, C. Denise Marcelle, Buddy Amoroso, Ryan Heck and John Delgado.

Absent from the meeting were Trae Welch (who was driving in late from New Orleans), Tara Wicker (who left just before the meeting started because she was ill), Ronnie Edwards and Joel Boe’.
The council must have seven members in the chambers to maintain a quorum.

At some point, Mayor Pro Tem Loupe called a 15 minute recess because too many council members were getting up, threatening the loss of a quorum.

Ultimately, after about 15 minutes, Loupe adjourned the meeting because not enough members were back in the chambers. At the time Scott Wilson and Ryan Heck had left the room.

Casey Cashio, council administrator, said Loupe didn’t have to adjourn the meeting. He could have simply waited for the quorum return to the room.

There is no legal requirement to adjourn when the quorum is lost. However, the council can’t vote or take official action until there is a quorum.

The last time the Metro Council adjourned because of a lack of quorum was in 2011. The parish attorney’s office said subsequently, that they were also not legally required to adjourn that meeting.

“He was not legally required to adjourn,” Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson said in 2011 after the council lost its quorum. “He could have waited for a few minutes.”

The making of the City of St. George: a timeline

The proposed city of St. George didn’t get to where it is today over night. Here’s a look back at where it’s been.

Councilwoman Chauna-Banks Daniel on Registrar vote: “Bones” Addison is unfit to serve

UPDATED: to reflect Bill Bryan’s withdrawal letter.

The Metro Council is expected to vote on the new Registrar of Voters today. But ahead of the vote, there have already been a few shake ups including the withdrawal of one of the more experienced applicants and a letter from a Metro Councilwoman advocating against another high profile candidate.

The administrative job post, in charge of voter registration and elections, has drawn 24 applicants. The job, described as a life time appointment, offers a salary between $85,000 and $117,000 a year.

On Tuesday, one of the more high profile candidates Bill Bryan withdrew from consideration. Bryan works for the state Attorney General’s Office, specializing in elections cases. Several council members said Bryan was one of their top picks.

In a letter submitted to withdraw his name from consideration, Bryan writes that he was “initially encouraged to apply for the position of Registrar of Voters for the Parish of Baton Rouge by members of the elections community, as well as civic and church leaders who wanted Elaine Lamb to be replaced by an experienced and independent candidate, and believed I would be the perfect consensus candidate.”

He doesn’t offer an explanation for his decision to withdraw his name. “After further consideration, I am respectfully requesting that you withdraw my name from consideration of the registrar of voters position,” he said.

Earlier this week, Councilman John Delgado told The Advocate that the council had lined up behind former Metro Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison and was planning to give him the job. Delgado took issue with what he described as a “fix” because he said Addison is getting favoritism for being on the council and lacks actual experience.

On Tuesday, Addison’s council district successor Chauna Banks-Daniel sent a scathing email saying she would not vote for Addison because she believes he was a neglectful councilman and she could attest to many issues that went unanswered in her district for years under his watch. She accuses him of financial mismanagement and of voting against the interests of his own constituents.

Here is the email Banks-Daniel sent to the Metro Council:

“Members,

I believe past performance is an indication of future performance.  This is just a tip of the iceberg of what I inherited from the previous Councilmember, Ulysses “Bones” Addison.  In all fairness, I wanted to discuss these concerns with him when he called to solicit my support for ROV. However, Mr. Addison would not consent to scheduling a meeting as requested by my aide.

  1. A huge backlog of constituency complaints with an average origination of two years old.
  1. No District 2 staff or files to assist with transition.
  1. Multiple untraceable telephone and cell phones charged to the city and the JJNCC. (edit: JJNCC =Jewel J. Newman Community Center)
  1. 10 years of terrible financial audits of the JJNCC- even when under the Mayor’s office, the CM was supplied copies and occupied the building.
  1. Excessive spending and duplicate spending without justification from JJNCC account.
  1. No accountability of staff under CM charge- payroll fraud, misappropriation of funds, illegal gaming, malfeasance, and neglect of duty -just to name few.
  1. Building in disrepair, up to 5 years in failed Fire Marshall reports of JJNCC
  1. Incomplete outdoor structure-no use, no purpose, said to have cost 10s of thousands of dollars.
  1. Refused to vote to approve the University Place item in 12/2012, further delaying a 20 year fight to help residents in District 2
  1. Chronic fighting with Mayor to the point that District 2 suffered tremendously.
  1. Excessive absenteeism from Planning and Council meetings.

These are just some of tangible areas that I personally can testify to be factual.  I don’t know Mr. Addison personally, but from a professional view….

ALL of these infraction happened under the Mayor’s Administration AND under Councilman Addison’s leadership and occupancy.

For this reason, I will be looking to vote for Bill Bryan, whose resume, character, and knowledge of the election process is praised by people that have nothing to gain!

Chauna Banks-Daniel

 

St. George letter warns supporters to be wary of opposition’s efforts

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St. George organizers are warning those who signed the petition to vote to create their own city that they might be ambushed by the opposition.

A new letter circulating from the proposed city’s organizers accuses anti-St. George groups Better Together and Residents Against the Breakaway of sending canvassers from door-to-door and claiming that the proposed city of St. George could cause taxes to increase or create a “doomsday” scenario for the parish.

Better Together leaders have denied the accusations, calling them “totally unfounded and ridiculous.”

St. George advocates submitted 4,600 more signatures to the Registrar of Voters at the end of May in hopes of reaching the goal of having 25 percent of voters in their boundaries asking for an election to create the city. The same day, Better Together submitted more than 800 withdrawal slips from those who once signed the petition and are now asking to remove their names.

While no more names can be added to the petition to create St. George, people who once signed the petition can continue to ask the Registrar to delete their names from it. St. George organizers claim that the opposition will stop at nothing to prevent an election from happening.

“We have reports that say they are telling seniors they will lose their social security or that children will be made to go to school in tents,” the letter reads. “…If you see them in your neighborhood, please notify us via social media or by calling 225-366-7764 or emailing media@stgeorgelouisiana.com.”

St. George will need 17,859 signatures to make ballots in the fall. After the petition was verified for the first time by the registrar, St. George needed to close a gap of 2,694 signatures.

Despite the 4,600 additional signatures St. George proponents have submitted, the withdrawals could make all the difference in whether residents get to vote on the possibility of the new city.

“Every single day, we are getting more and more withdrawals,” said Better Together leader M.E. Cormier. “They’re mailing them in; we’re canvassing every day and still getting more.”

Baton Rouge Metro Council debates body camera ordinances via email debate

AP photo

AP photo

The debate over whether the Metro Council should create a funding mandate for the City Police department to purchase and utilize body cameras spilled into the weekend with council members chiming in with their thoughts via email.

At issue is an ordinance that Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle has proposed, that would mandate body cameras on all patrolling officers as of Jan. 1. Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. and the Mayor’s Office have said that while they support cameras, they are concerned about costs and that the ordinance would force them into spending millions of dollars they don’t have. After the measure failed at a poorly attended council meeting recently, it was revived and deferred to another vote that will be taken this Wednesday. 

Councilman Buddy Amoroso on Friday submitted a resolution to be voted on that would merely offer support for body cameras in the police department, and set up a committee to study issues related to cost and privacy concerns associated with the cameras.

He forwarded the text of his ordinance to the full council, the mayor’s office, Dabadie and members of the media.

Marcelle responded via email that she has no interest in a non-binding resolution.

“As I explained to you when you suggested (this) resolution, this chief says that he supports the cameras, but the next chief may not see this as a priority, so that’s why it’s important that we mandate it,” she wrote.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said he had reservations about Marcelle’s ordinance.

“What happens at budget time and they say they don’t have the money. We can’t mandate them to spend money out of their budget, wish we had that authority for sone other departments but we don’t. So your mandate can’t really mandate anything unless we find the money to pay for them. I understand you believe the money exists and don’t disagree but we don’t set their budget, that’s done across the hall. So explain how we mandate it please,” Loupe wrote.

Councilman Ryan Heck backed Marcelle.

“We pass laws.  The mayors office administers those laws.  We mandate spending at every council meeting I’ve attended. Tail wagging the dog…” he wrote.

Then Trae Welch told the council in the group email that the city-parish must mind its spending priorities.

“I support the implementation and the use. I don’t, however support mandating a program that I have no idea the true cost and  what services may be cut to carry out that mandate,” Welch wrote.

Marcelle told the council that she considers that cameras a priority that should be taken seriously.

“My thought is that the body cameras should be considered as a priority and the department should work honestly to outfit and maintain them within their budget,” she said in a follow up email.

The council is expected to vote on both Marcelle and Amoroso’s conflicting body camera items on Wednesday.

Click here to read about the Metro Council’s history debating city-parish business via email. 

 

Downtown Baton Rouge hosting premiere party for Jay Ducote’s debut on “Food Network Star”

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Downtown Baton Rouge is rolling out the red carpet for food blogger-turned local celebrity Jay Ducote, who will be repping South Louisiana as he competes on the reality TV show “Food Network Star.” 

There will be a premiere party on Sunday at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar and in North Boulevard Town Square from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The show starts at 8 p.m.

There will be live music and the show will be aired on both the TVs at the restaurant as well as on the beacon in Town Square.

Ducote has made a name for himself in the food sphere with his blog “Bite and Booze.” He also has developed a barbecue sauce and a wine label.

He has previously competed on food shows “Master Chef” and “CutThroat Kitchen.”

John Delgado kicks off election campaign with fundraiser, but still coy on Mayor’s race

delgado fundJohn Delgado is running for office in 2016, but he won’t say what office just yet.

This week he announced his first campaign fundraiser event at Sullivan’s on June 4th. He suggested contributions of $250.

Asked about his 2016 intentions, Delgado said this week that he still hasn’t decided whether he’ll be seeking re-election to his second term as a Metro Councilman or running for Mayor-President.

“We are continuing to explore the race and keep all options on the table,” he said. “We know there’s plenty of public support, but we want to make sure there’s financial support.”

Delgado raised about $100,000 in 2012 for his Metro Council race, a tight election where he beat incumbent Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois.

State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat who has already expressed her intentions to run for Mayor-President, said she expects to raise about $1 million for the race.

Regardless of the office he ultimately runs for, Delgado said he expects to be one of the most aggressive fundraisers in the race.

“I’m going to run to win,” he said. “I will out raise my opponent in whatever race I run for. An unfortunate reality of politics is that you have to have money to get your message out.”