The Advocate Blog Network

Search
Banner image

Effort to turn city court job into elected position fails

An attempt to create another elected position in the City of Baton Rouge failed this week.

Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle has for months been pushing to turn the city court judge administrator/clerk position into an elected position.

The position is mostly administrative in nature and the person who holds the job is selected by the five city court judges. It was for years held by Lon Norris, but he retired this month and his deputy Lynn Maloy was then selected for the job.

Marcelle said she thought the job should be turned into two positions, a judicial administrator, which would still be appointed, and the city court clerk, which would be elected.

She noted that the district court judges are elected positions. But opponents countered that only two city court clerks are elected across the state and the rest are appointed.

On Wednesday, the Metro Council was set to vote on the change, which would have only sent the proposal to parish voters who would ultimately decide whether the position would become an elected position.

Three of the five city court judges spoke before the Metro Council urging them to leave the current system in place.

“The Mayor appoints his chief administrative officer, the Metro Council appoints their own council administrator, the constable appoints a chief deputy,” said chief city court judge Suzan Ponder.

Councilman Trae Welch said he opposed it because the council would end up paying for the creation of a second administrative position to handle what one person is currently doing.

The proposal died for lack of a motion, but Marcelle said later that she’s not giving up.

CATS offering Touchdown Express for LSU game days

dt.common.streams.StreamServer (1)

The Capital Area Transit System is bringing back Touchdown Express for its sixth straight year, carrying riders from downtown to Tiger Stadium on game days.

The tickets are $10 round trips. They go on sale Aug. 31 and are available online at www.brcats.com and at the CATS terminal at 2222 Florida Boulevard.

You can buy tickets for all seven games for $60. The tickets will be sold on game days at L’Auberge Casino, Hotel Indigo and under the I-110 underpass.  Tickets can also be purchased on the bus at the Hampton Inn, Hollywood Casino and the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino. Exact change is required for ticket purchases on game days.

The shuttle service starts three hours before kickoff, and runs one hour after the game ends.

CATS will have pick-up sites at the following locations: Hollywood Casino, Hampton Inn downtown, Hotel Indigo, I-110 Underpass parking lot, Belle of Baton Rouge Casino, and L’Auberge Casino. The drop-off and pick-up site at LSU is Lot 406.

New director will oversee city-parish low income housing

The city-parish has named Bradley Sweazy as the Office of Community Development’s new director, where he will oversee housing programs and opportunities for low and moderate income residents.

Sweazy has more than 23 years under his belt working with federal housing programs and community development, according to a city-parish news release.

Sweazy was most recently the program manager for the Louisiana Housing Corporation where he was in charge of millions of dollars in grant money. Sweazy also previously worked for the Kentucky Housing Corporation in a variety of leadership roles.

Sweazy has also worked as a consultant for Baton Rouge’s Office of Community Development.

The Office of Community Development’s action plan for 2015 to 2019 highlights six main areas for programs to grow. They include prioritizing education services; increasing availability and accessibility of affordable housing; adding health services; focusing on workforce development; working with homeless prevention services and expanding public facilities and infrastructure.

Library will allow light snacks, drinks at facilities

The East Baton Rouge Parish library system will allow light snacks and drinks at its facilities. Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS.

The East Baton Rouge Parish library system will allow light snacks and drinks at its facilities. Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS.

Gone are the days when Baton Rouge’s library-goers have to be stealthy about sneaking snacks or drinks past librarians.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control voted Thursday to change their rules to allow patrons to bring light snacks and beverages to the libraries across the parish.

Library staffers have been trying out the system for months at the Main Library on Goodwood Boulevard. The rule change allows visitors to munch on wrapped food like cookies and crackers or sip on drinks in containers with caps or spill resistant lids.

Food and drinks will still be off-limits in certain areas, such as the Main Library’s Genealogy Room.

Drinks must not be alcoholic and must not have red dye in them.

Some worried that the libraries will be ruined with groups of people enjoying pungent dinners. Baton Rouge attorney Jim George saw a group of people devouring fried chicken at a library recently, and it compelled him to ask board members to vote against the change.

“Most of your patrons would not benefit from this change,” he told the board before they voted.

The library staffers and board members assured George that fried chicken did not fall into the category of approved foods to bring to the library. The new rules say that food and drinks should not emit strong odors.

Board members Jason Jacob, Travis Woodard, Logan Leger and Donald Luther, Jr. all voted in favor of the rule change. Kizzy Payton, Terrie Johnson and Kathy Wascom voted against the change.

The board also voted to recommend that they use real estate firm Sperry Van Ness to help search for a site for a south branch library. The board has unsuccessfully attempted to locate a spot for the planned library for months now.

The city-parish has to approve the recommendation for Sperry Van Ness before it becomes final.

Puppy pool party set for Sunday

At a "Dogs Only Splash Party" in 2009 in Baton Rouge, 9-year-old Brennen Bourgeoius swam with his dog Rainer. The event was held at  the CYO Aquatic Club. This year, BREC is holding an end of summer "pool pawty" at Liberty Lagoon. Advocate Staff Photo by Mark Saltz.

At a “Dogs Only Splash Party” in 2009 in Baton Rouge, 9-year-old Brennen Bourgeoius swam with his dog Rainer. The event was held at the CYO Aquatic Club. This year, BREC is holding an end of summer “pool pawty” at Liberty Lagoon. Advocate Staff Photo by Mark Saltz.

The dog days of summer are coming to an end. The celebration will go to the dogs — literally.

The Baton Rouge recreation and parks commission will hold an end of summer “pool pawty” for dogs and their owners on Sunday, August 23 at Liberty Lagoon Waterpark.

Man’s best friend will get to splish, splash and swim for an afternoon of cooling down. To join the pool party, puppies must be at least four months old and their owners must show tags or paper that display proof of vaccinations.

Dogs must have collars and stay on a leash unless they are in the pool, where their owners can join them. People can wade up to their knees to watch dog paddling in action.

Owners must clean up and properly throw away dog waste, and aggressive dogs will be asked to leave.

The event starts at 3 p.m. Sunday and goes until 6 p.m., but people can purchase wristbands for admission starting at 2:30 p.m. Wristbands are $2, and all children under 18 and dogs must be accompanied by an adult.

Liberty Lagoon is located at 111 Lobdell Avenue.

Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors backs industrial site’s property rights ahead of rezoning vote

The Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors has come out in support of the controversial barge cleaning site that wants to operate within a mile of a residential neighborhood and down the road from LSU.

It’s the first public ally that Tubal-Cain and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge have gotten, as a long line of influential opponents including Mayor-President Kip Holden, Congressman Garrett Graves and LSU President King Alexander have expressed their opposition to the project for its proximity to a residential neighborhood, LSU and a BREC park.

Tonight at 4 p.m. the Metro Council will meet and vote on whether to rezone the property Tubal-Cain has been developing for two years. The company says they’ve spent about $4 million in preparation for the operations. But rezoning it from heavy industrial to commercial would prevent them from doing business. 

“The Greater Baton Rouge Association of REALTORS is writing you to express our concerns about your attempt to rezone the property cited above without the express request or even the consent of the private property owner,” wrote Herb Gomez, vice president of the realtor association, to the Metro Council. The owner of the land is the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, which is leasing it to Tubal-Cain.

Rezoning land use can be initiated by the owner or by the Metro Council.

Gomez said many members of their group oppose the barge cleaning facility, but are more concerned about the precedent of “trampling on property rights.”

“Our primary interest in this matter is one of private property rights and preserving these rights.  Every day the government chips away at the rights of private property owners,” he said in the email. .  “Today you might use the might of government to change the zoning of this property to the perceived benefit of those citizens near this property, but who is to say some day this power might be used to the detriment of those same citizens.”

Holden responded to the email to Gomez, saying that the case has “nothing to do with private property rights,” because the land belongs to a governmental entity.

“I would suggest to you that by NOT passing the proposed zoning change you are in fact violating the property rights of the citizens surrounding the proposed project, and the thousands of citizens who utilize the BREC Park paid for by the property taxes of the citizens of this Parish,” Holden wrote. “As a realtor, I am sure you understand the detrimental effect an industrial facility will have on the property values of the homes located in the vicinity of the facility.  It is the obligation of the Metro Council to protect the property rights of our citizens.”

The Metro Council meets today at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

“It’s time to go south,” Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel says of new industrial projects in parish

AX179_5265_9

Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she won’t support a vote to rezone the proposed barge cleaning facility in South Baton Rouge, because preventing the barge from doing business at the current site could mean it would later end up in North Baton Rouge where low-income residents have suffered from industrial sites for years.

“It’s time to go south, to ease to concentration on the north,” Banks-Daniel wrote in an e-mail to Metro Council members and a few residents of Riverbend subdivision who emailed their opposition to the project.  “Among the affected groups of environmental justice, those in high-poverty and racial minority groups have the most propensity to receive the harm of environmental in-justice.  Poor people account for more than 20% of the human health impacts from industrial toxic air releases, compared to 12.9% of the population nationwide.”

Council members Chandler Loupe and John Delgado proposed rezoning the site where barge cleaning industrial company Tubal-Cain has been developing land for two years. Rezoning the property from heavy industrial to commercial would prevent Tubal-Cain from being able to do its intended operations there.

The site is located within a mile of BREC’s Farr Park, Riverbend neighborhood, and is down the road from LSU.  The Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend the rezoning.

In Banks-Daniel’s email, she highlighted other industrial projects in neighborhoods she represents including Scotlandville and Alsen, which have been plagued by a sewer treatment plant and a planned industrial landfill, among other facilities. She said black communities are disproportionately affected by “Cancer Alley” as a result of being located next to “hazardous facilities, as well as their low socio-economic status and limited political influence.”

“I can’t refute the passions of those I serve and their concern that a vote of ‘yes’ will open the possibility of this being our fight in the future,” she wrote.  “History has shown that in my District, residents have had to stand mostly alone in the environmental fight and usually come up short!”

The Metro Council meets at 4 p.m. today to vote on the rezoning.

Click here for an article explaining the background of industrial sites in north Baton Rouge. 

Here is the full text of her email which she sent Wednesday.

I represent the northern part of the parish, including Scotlandville and Alsen.  Some of you may be aware of the history of environmental injustices that have plagued these residents for over the last 50 years.  Recently, I am bombarded with request not to approve the re-zoning the property from heavy industrial to commercial.  The majority of the request stem from not only the history previously mentioned, but concern that Tubal-Cain Marine or some other barge cleaning facility will come north.

We all know the Mississippi River is the largest industrial river in the country.  In District 2, we are heavily hit with industrial units because of the river, two train tracks, and multiple chemical companies already aligned.

It’s time to go south, to ease to concentration on the north. Among the affected groups of environmental justice, those in high-poverty and racial minority groups have the most propensity to receive the harm of environmental in-justice.  Poor people account for more than 20% of the human health impacts from industrial toxic air releases, compared to 12.9% of the population nationwide.

There is still a need to bring an end to the contamination of Devil’s Swamp in Alsen.  Just last week, three state agencies reported that nobody should eat fish or crawfish from the Devil’s Swamp and Bayou Baton Rouge area, or swim or boat there, because of mercury and PCB pollution.  This was a beautiful property when I was growing up, but not anymore.  The EPA has said a nearby 190-acre hazardous waste dump was the apparent source of PCBs.  Rollins Environmental Services Inc. ran the site for decades starting in 1971. Current owner Clean Harbors Inc.  This is a fight the residents of Alsen have had to endure with little or no help from anyone locally.

Just last year in 2014, in spite of the opposition, no different from the Riverbend residents.  Genesis Energy, built a rail station to transport crude oil right across from my subdivision in Scotlandville.  Genesis Energy has been good community partners and there has been no incidents, but the risk of a spill or explosion exists. Genesis was drown to the location because the land is near the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and is connected to the Port’s existing deep-water docks on the Mississippi River.  Similar to the reason Tubal-Marine Services wants to build on the port owned property.

In spite of the recent unified fight including the Mayor and Metro Council, etc. Louisiana Land Acquisitions, LLC had three opportunities to apply for the same site, beginning in 1997, again in 2008, and successfully in 2014, LDEQ gave the green light.   The LDEQ state the company had all there paperwork together for approval.  I can only assume Tubal will have all their paperwork together and yield LDEQ approval as well. This landfill is being built on the north side of Brooklawn Drive, about two miles west of Scenic Highway, just down from the Alsen community.   Nevertheless, our residents don’t want more waste being brought into our community.

Residents are constantly reminding me of the city-parish wastewater treatment facility located in University Place, near Southern University.  It took two decades of fighting, but finally residents prevailed and the city-parish moved them away from the sewage plant.  The last resident moved just a couple of months ago.
African-Americans are affected by a variety of environmental justice issues. One notorious example is our own “Cancer Alley” region of Louisiana. This 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is home to 125 companies that produce one quarter of the petrochemical products manufactured in the United States.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights has concluded that the African-American community has been disproportionately affected by Cancer Alley as a result of Louisiana’s current state and local permit system for hazardous facilities, as well as their low socio-economic status and limited political influence.

This is a difficult decision for me and I sympathize with the residents living near this proposed site.  However, I can’t refute the passions of those I serve and their concern that a vote of “yes” will open the possibility of this being our fight in the future.  History has shown that in my District, residents have had to stand mostly alone in the environmental fight and usually come up short!

 

East Baton Rouge registrar of voters in line for salary increase

East Baton Rouge's new registrar of voters Steve Raborn is in line for a salary increase after a busy first few months on the job. Advocate Staff Photo.

East Baton Rouge’s new registrar of voters Steve Raborn is in line for a salary increase after a busy first few months on the job. Advocate Staff Photo.

The city-parish’s new registrar of voters is in line for a salary increase after a busy first few months in which he declared a petition for the city of St. George invalid.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will vote August 26 to approve a $12,795.72 salary supplement for Registrar Steve Raborn. Raborn’s currently salary is $84,945 and the extra money has already been budgeted and will not affect the current budget, according to the supplement request for the Metro Council.

Raborn, a former East Baton Rouge registrar employee and a former Texas registrar, was appointed to his position in June. He took over for longtime Registrar Elaine Lamb, who retired in May.

Raborn’s starting salary was on the low end of the earning potential for the registrar, whose salary can range between $85,000 and $117,000 a year. The salary increase, which would bring his total to around $97,740, would go into effect September 1.

In the weeks leading up to Raborn’s appointment, Councilman John Delgado speculated that his fellow council members were trying to give the position to former councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison. Raborn narrowly garnered the Metro Council’s support for the position.

The registrar position has been described as a “lifetime appointment” because most people keep the job until they retire. The East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar’s Office has existed for 94 years, but only had five registrars.

Lamb retired as the registrar’s office was in the middle of validating a huge petition that residents signed in hopes that they would vote this fall to create the city of St. George. The St. George movement gathered steam as residents hoped for their own city on the south side of the parish with better public schools than East Baton Rouge.

Days after Raborn was appointed to the position, the registrar’s office announced that the petition to create St. George fell short by 71 names.

St. George backers needed 25 percent of registered voters in their proposed city’s boundaries to sign the petition to hold an election. After the validation process, the registrar found that St. George backers had garnered 17,788 valid names.

St. George proponents filed a lawsuit that went to court in July in which they alleged that Raborn made important mistakes when verifying the petition. State Judge Wilson Fields dismissed the lawsuit, saying no legal remedy could force the registrar to take a second look at the petition.

St. George organizers later announced that they would not appeal the ruling, leaving their movement dead. They would have to wait two years to re-start the petition process, according to state law.

Mary Olive Pierson won’t charge city for St. George litigation

Mary Olive Pierson will not charge the city-parish for the time she spent working on St. George litigation.

Mary Olive Pierson will not charge the city-parish for the time she spent working on St. George litigation.

Attorney Mary Olive Pierson said in a recent letter to the mayor and Metro Council that she would not bill the city-parish for her legal services relating to movement to create the city of St. George.

Pierson swore she would defend the city-parish as a petition drive to create the city of St. George gained traction in the southern part of the parish. The St. George movement came to an end when their petition to vote for the new city fell short by 71 signatures in June and State District Judge Wilson Fields tossed out a lawsuit in July challenging how the petition was counted.

The St. George camp has said they will not appeal.

In her letter, Pierson praised Fields’ ruling.

“The appeal would not have had any merit because Judge Fields was 100 percent correct in his legal ruling, notwithstanding unwarranted and inflammatory opinions on the St. George website from its supporters which erroneously and unmercifully criticized the Judge for his decision,” Pierson wrote.

Pierson wrote that she spent extensive time and energy strategizing over a possible St. George lawsuit should an election be called. However, she said she previously told the mayor and Metro Council that she would not charge for her services until the city-parish was dragged into litigation.

The Metro Council previously approved a $40,000 contract for her that started January 29 of this year and ran through 2017. Pierson wrote that she would not bill the city-parish for her time and expenses though the contract called for her to be paid.

“It was a privilege and an honor to represent the City-Parish in this process and I hope that my services were such that I will be considered again in the future for other professional contracts,” she wrote.

Some Metro Council members raised concerns over spending public money on Pierson, given that her anti-St. George position was not shared by all city-parish residents.

Pierson worked pro bono as a St. George opponent long before the Metro Council approved her contract earlier this year. She repeatedly said she had a vested interest in ensuring Baton Rouge was not split into two cities.

“I have a vital interest in making sure this city I was born in and grew up in continues to flourish,” Pierson said in the past.

Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg to speak Friday at Main Library

Rick Bragg will speak at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 7 at Baton Rouge's Main Library. The celebrated writer will discuss his new book about Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo provided by East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Rick Bragg will speak at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 7 at Baton Rouge’s Main Library. The celebrated writer will discuss his new book about Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo provided by East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Journalist, author and Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg will promote his book “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” at 7 p.m. Friday at the Main Library.

Bragg, a native of Alabama, had a celebrated career at The New York Times and has penned many books. Their topics range from the story of Iraq war POW Jessica Lynch to Bragg’s own personal memoir.

Bragg released his book about Lewis near the end of 2014.

The story walks through Lewis’ early days growing up in Ferriday, Louisiana to the height of Lewis’ fame and the controversy in his personal life. The book has received favorable reviews from critics and readers alike.

The library will host a reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday before Bragg begins his book discussion at 7 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.