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Public records? Come get ‘em, Central mayor says

Jr. Shelton, mayor of Central, vowed this week to turn over public records whenever asked.

Jr. Shelton, mayor of Central, vowed this week to turn over public records whenever asked.

The city of Central could be turning over a new leaf when it comes to public records.

Central Mayor Jr. Shelton vowed to run a transparent government this week after newspaper owner Woody Jenkins asked him how he will approach access to public information. The issue had been controversial under previous Mayor Mac Watts’ administration in Central, as many of the city’s government services are privatized.

Jenkins fought the idea that privatized government services were not subject to public records laws in a court battle that took him all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He eventually got his hands on the documents he wanted via a settlement.

Jenkins pointedly asked at Shelton’s State of Central speech this week if information would be restricted. Shelton vowed to turn over public documents with no questions asked.

“We have nothing to hide,” Shelton said. “If you’re operating your government the way you’re supposed to, I welcome anybody to come an ask for public records.”

Shelton also said that Central will soon have a true city hall. The city’s few government leaders have been operating out of a strip shopping mall since Central was incorporated.

They have not chosen a site for the new city hall yet, but Shelton said he expects that development will boom around the new government building.

“It’s very important for the city to have a building that people are going to want to come to and do business,” he said.

St. George petition verification halfway through; finish goal is end of Feb.

Patrick Dennis

Registrar’s office workers stamp the St. George petition. Patrick Dennis

The St. George petition verification should be complete by the end of February, which would slate the proposed city of St. George for a May election.

Registrar workers are halfway through verifying the estimated 18,000 names in the 1,179-page document as of Thursday.

“There’s a lot of things that you have to check, each name you at least spend a good five to ten minutes on,” said Administrative Assistant Aimee Pourciau.

If the Registrar of voters does not verify the signatures by March 17, then St. George backers will miss the deadline to appear on the May 2 ballot. They have already missed the deadline to appear on the March 28 ballot.

The news comes amid the Metro Council’s vote on Wednesday to give attorney Mary Olive Pierson $40,000  to represent the city of Baton Rouge in legal conflicts with the proposed city of St. George. Many St. George backers have argued that the hiring of the Pierson is another attempt to delay or ruin their chances of creating the city.

The petition must include at least 25 percent of registered voters within the proposed boundaries of St. George for an election to be held. Pourciau said they have only thrown out around 3 percent of the names on the petition so far.

The registrar’s office began checking the petition for the incorporation of St. George mid-December. Each name must be compared to registration records and confirmed to be within the correct boundaries.

“It’s going great, it’s going along,” Pourciau said. “We’re happy with where we’re at.”

New tax money from L’Auberge Casino funds new CATS route

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The Capital Area Transit System is adding a new express route that goes into effect Feb. 1, which is being funded in part by the additional taxes generated by  L’Auberge Casino.

The limited stop route will serve the Mall of Louisiana, the intersection of Gardere and GSRI, the Emerge Center, and L’Auberge Casino.

The 46 Gardere Limited will operate seven days a week: Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 9:55 p.m.; Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. to 9:55 p.m.; and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to6:55 p.m. The service will run hourly, and buses will depart the Mall of Louisiana every hour on the hour. Buses will depart L’Auberge Casino every hour on the half hour.

Running the additional route will cost CATS $7,950.

The route is being funded by a combination of federal grant money and the additional property tax revenue generated from L’Auberge Casino, which was annexed into the City of Baton of Rouge late last year. The casino previously did not pay the CATS tax because it was not in the city limits. Baton Rouge leaders pursued annexation of the casino, in a move to retain the funds in the event the proposed city of St. George successfully incorporates.

The newest route is temporary and is slated to change at the end of March, at which point it will be incorporated into the regular Route 46 Gardere.

The Gardere route brings CATS total routes to 31, plus three limited stop routes.

“We are happy to be able to provide this limited stop service to another area of interest to our customers,” said CATS CEO Bob Mirabito in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to respond to the requests of our growing customer base and provide the most efficient service we can.”

 

Library board member: Stop saying library should lower tax

Library Board Treasurer Logan Leger went on the offensive Tuesday after speculation that Metro Council members want the library to lower its tax in the October election.

Metro Councilman Ryan Heck has complained that the library has a mound of money in its reserve accounts. He has floated the idea that if the library lowered its tax, voters would be more willing to approve a new tax for a mental health center.

The library system currently collects 10.78 mills from residents. Heck’s hope is that voters would be willing to keep paying that much, just with some of it going toward a mental health center instead of libraries.

But Library Director Spencer Watts and Assistant Library Director Mary Stein have repeatedly said that they will determine their millage based on the library’s needs over the next 10 years. They have rejected the idea that they have too much money in their reserve accounts, pointing out that they are self-insured and have a $1 million deductible.

The money in their account includes money in case of emergencies including the deductible, a full year of operating expenses, millions of dollars for projects that have been approved but not begun yet and millions for capital improvement projects like new lighting and floors.

The library also uses a pay-as-you-go strategy and only builds new projects with the money available in its account, contrary to many other government entities who use bonds to build, including the city-parish.

Leger came to the library’s defense in a salvo of tweets on Tuesday afternoon.

Spanish Moon bar in Baton Rouge volunteers to go smoke-free

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Spanish Moon, one of Baton Rouge’s smokiest bars, announced Monday on its social media accounts that it is going smoke free.

The bar, located on Highland Road, is a popular concert venue and bar.

The move, which goes into effect Feb. 4, comes just as the City of New Orleans passed a new law to ban smoking in its bars and casinos.

No such smoke ban has been proposed for Baton Rouge, but last week Councilman John Delgado said he is considering sponsoring a similar local ordinance for the Capital City. 

Management for the bar could not be immediately reached for comment.

 

More baseball coming to BREC parks

The Recreation and Park Commission for Baton Rouge is gearing up for spring in the most American way possible: more baseball.

The BREC Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to approve two agreements that will allow Extra Innings Baseball Academy LLC and Pitch by Pitch Baseball Academy LLC to use its Airline Highway Park for coaching, camps, games and more this spring. Former major league baseball player David Dellucci, a Catholic High graduate, runs Extra Innings and told the board his goal is to bring baseball back to popularity.

While other sports like football and basketball often limit athletes based on size, Dellucci said baseball welcomes most with open arms.

“Baseball is a sport where any kid can play until their talent level rules them out,” he said.

Bill Dailey, former LSU baseball assistant coach, runs Pitch by Pitch and said he and Dellucci want to bring more communities together through baseball. He said he wants the kids to know more than just the game’s competitive aspect.

“We try to make it a little more like backyard baseball and let the kids run the game,” Dailey said.

The BREC Board of Commissioners also approved the Capital Area Pathways Project’s conceptual trail map, which includes the Wards Creek that currently leads nowhere. The maps will soon go to the public for input.

In addition, the board gave Eastgate Park the title of “obsolete” and will close it down. Ted Jack, BREC’s assistant superintendent for planning, operations and resources, said the park is small and near other parks in the area.

He said power lines hanging overhead prevent them from adding playground equipment.

Baton Rouge Councilman John Delgado mulls smoke ban, on heels of NOLA vote

Tom Taylor, a bartender at Buffa's, takes a puff off his cigarette wild taking care of patrons in New Orleans, La.

Tom Taylor, a bartender at Buffa’s, takes a puff off his cigarette wild taking care of patrons in New Orleans, La.

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the landmark decision to ban smoking in bars and casinos in a city known for equal parts indulgence and tourism.

Could Baton Rouge be next? Councilman John Delgado says maybe.

Delgado, who owns three bars himself, said he is considering proposing a smoke ban in the Capital City.

He said he agrees with the public health concerns of anti-smoking advocates, noting that bartenders or casino workers are exposed to hours and hours of second-hand smoke. He also noted that smoke bans are already in place in many major U.S. cities.

But before proposing a ban, Delgado said he’d need to talk to stakeholders from restaurants, bars and casinos about the financial impacts. Years ago, Baton Rouge banned smoking in restaurants. And Delgado said he doesn’t think that had a detrimental financial impact.

He personally doesn’t allow smoking in his three downtown bars, Huey’s, the Drafthouse and Brickyard South, because he said he sees smoky bars as a deterrent for customers these days.

He said that if a city like New Orleans can pass a smoking ban in bars, then Baton Rouge should take notice.

“If New Orleans has a much bigger bar culture and they’re doing it there, why wouldn’t we do it here,” he said. “Do we not care about our employees as much as the people in New Orleans do?”

Ryan Heck: Mayor Holden needs to put “hard work and intellectual effort” into plans

The war of words between Mayor President Kip Holden and some members of the council, in the wake of the vote to reject placing the public safety tax plan on the May ballot, is heating up.

rheckCouncilman Ryan Heck is stepping out as one of the most vocal critics of Holden’s efforts. In a Facebook post this week, Heck said it’s time for Holden to “put a little hard work and intellectual effort” into his plans. He also suggested that Holden does not have a “real job” and doesn’t understand “real world finances.”

After the plan failed last week, Heck told several media outlets including The Advocate that Holden’s plan was “lazy,” because he saw no indication that the administration researched financing alternatives aside from raising taxes for the public safety infrastructure projects.

Heck and his council colleague John Delgado formally asked the Mayor’s office to produce a report outlining revenue neutral options to building a new mental health facility. Holden told The Advocate that Heck and Delgado didn’t “understand anything about finances,” and he would not “go through a vain exercise so they can placate a few people.”

Heck responded this week in a Facebook post:

“For Mayor Holden to say this can’t be accomplished without additional taxes is just plain baloney. Perhaps he should put a little hard work and intellectual effort into the task instead of taking the easy way out by attempting to raise taxes.

Our budget is over 800 million dollars and if we line up our priorities correctly, this is a simple task.

“Those are people who obviously don’t understand anything about finances,” Holden said. “I’m not going to go through a vain exercise so they can placate a few people.”

What’s really obvious from the statement above is no work was performed to even see if it could be done without raising taxes. It’s not a vain exercise. It’s taxpayer money.

Perhaps when Mayor Holden has to get a real job in 2 years, he’ll learn a thing or two about real word finances.”

Four months later, Bob Mirabito still hasn’t signed contract to continue to lead CATS

dt.common.streams.StreamServer (3)Back in September the Capital Area Transit System board of directors gave the chair the green light to negotiate a long-term contract with CEO Bob Mirabito. But four months later, a contract has yet to be signed.

The board made it clear that they were pleased with Mirabito’s performance and were interested in giving him a longer term contract. He was hired in 2013 on an interim basis and was subsequently given a 13 month contract.

Mirabito said Monday that he expects a contract to be signed soon and sent to the board for approval in February.

The contract negotiation would outline details such as his salary, length of term and any additional benefits. Mirabito said Monday that the new contract would be for two or three years.

He earns $140,000 a year under his current contract.

His previous contract had a one year roll over extension that the board activated. So Mirabito is operating under the terms of his previous contract until the end of the year. Since there’s no risk of lapse, Mirabito said there hasn’t been any rush to sign.

He said he has had meetings to negotiate with board chair Donna Collins-Lewis. But he said there have not been any major disagreements that have prevented him from signing.

EDIT: This story has been changed to reflect that Mirabito is under contract until the end of the year.

Garden District trolley service limited on Saturday for marathon

The Capital Area Transit System is suspending its new Garden District Trolley line (Line 15) for most of the day on Saturday because of the Louisiana Marathon.

Regular service will resume at 5 p.m.

More information is available online at www.brcats.com and by calling the Customer Care Department at 225-389-8282.