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Arbitration sides with employees over CATS CEO Bob Mirabito in union spat


The employee union of the Capital Area Transit System scored a recent victory in its ongoing feud with CEO Bob Mirabito this week when an arbitration hearing determined Mirabito acted inappropriately when he previously suspended four employees.

In February, several CATS employees picketed outside of the Florida Boulevard terminal complaining that the buses were unsafe and that Mirabito was treating employees poorly and refusing to abide by the union contract.

The next day, Mirabito suspended four employees for picketing because he said they had not given appropriate notice for missing their shifts. The employees complained that they had the right, as outlined in their union contracts, to take off work to protest the administration.

The four union leaders were suspended without pay for three days.

This week, the arbitration came out in favor of the union members. The suspensions were removed from their records and they will be given back pay for the days they were off.

Union president Katie Guy, who was among those suspended, said she felt validated by the ruling.

Mirabito said via an email from his assistant Amie McNaylor that the issue of contention was that employees did not give what he considered “reasonable notice” before taking leave. He said a definition of “reasonable notice” will need to be established and agreed on by both parties, but short of that, the contract deferred to past practice when employees had been allowed to give less than two days notice.

In June, Mirabito had another altercation with the union when he started contract negotiations by firing a bus operator Alfred Weeden. The union called it an act of intimidation and refused to begin negotiations that day.

A grievance process was initiated, which led to Weeden being reinstated — another win for the union.

Guy said Thursday that they are in the midst of union negotiations. She said relationships with the administration have improved slightly, but are not “100 percent better.”


CATS drivers picket, complain about condition of buses and management practices

– Dispute between CATS CEO Mirabito, union officials ends negotiating session before it starts; one official says he was fired at the meeting

– Defiant Mirabito says he’s staying put as CATS chief executive

After complaints of bad conditions, city looks to study Baton Rouge prison’s medical operations

The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison workers say they desperately need more nurses and more supplies to care for the city's inmate population. This photo shows the prison's booking area. ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison workers say they desperately need more nurses and more supplies to care for the city’s inmate population. This photo shows the prison’s booking area. ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG.

The city-parish is looking to spend nearly $100,000 to study the East Baton Rouge Parish prison’s medical operations, after medical workers complained in August that they are dangerously understaffed, underfunded and overworked.

Around 10 medical staff members begged the Metro Council for a lifeline during their August meeting, saying that they lack supplies as simple as Neosporin and as important as EKG machines that show if a patient is having a heart attack. Prison physician Rani Whitfield said their top need is hiring more nurses, who are spread so thin that one or two often cover shifts meant to be filled by five.

An agenda item set to be introduced in front of the Metro Council next week would give $95,000 to consulting firm Health Management Associates to analyze the prison’s medical operations.

Health Management Associates describes itself as a national research consulting firm that specializes in publicly financed health care. It is a different company from the for-profit hospital corporation, also called Health Management Associates, that was the subject of multiple whistle blower lawsuits over wrongfully admitting patients to hospitals to reap extra money.

When city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel initially suggested hiring an outside firm to study the problems, Metro Councilwomen Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle said it was not a quick enough solution.

Prison medical workers told of harrowing conditions, as the closure of the Earl K. Long Medical Center in north Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge General MidCity Emergency Room have contributed to their problems and lack of resources. Four of the 25 nurses on staff are out on stress leave, while they need 35 to 40 nurses to properly serve the prison, said nursing director Beatrice Stines.

“It’s true that we have a sicker inmate population, and without proper resources, supplies and more boots on the ground in the form of nursing staff, we are unable to efficiently care for the patients’ increasing morbidity, mortality and, ultimately, liability,” Whitfield said.

The jobs are not the most attractive of positions, because starting salaries for nurses range from $17 to $18 an hour and the highest-paid nurse still earns under $25 an hour.


Medical staff at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison say they are understaffed, overworked and lack critical supplies

Cardiac arrest patient rushed to Baton Rouge General Emergency Room minutes after its closing

Three of last four deaths at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison were mentally ill inmates jailed as mental health centers closed

Taking lead from Lafayette police, BRPD wants medical kits for officers

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In the wake of the tragic shooting at a Lafayette movie theater, the Baton Rouge Police Department is planning to outfit its officers with medical kits that could be used during critical, life threatening situations.

Baton Rouge Metro Councilman John Delgado said after the July shooting which left two women dead and several more injured, it became known that Lafayette police were able to provide some immediate medical care to victims at the scene of the shooting.

He placed an item on the Metro Council agenda urging the Mayor’s Office to allocate $50,000 to purchase the medical kits for each officer. The kits would include tourniquets, gauze, bandages and a chest seal — contained in a pouch that officers would keep on them.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said they have agreed to funding the kits.

Lt. Jonny Dunnam, BRPD spokesman, said the medical kits are a valuable tool for the officers.

“We do feel it is important to equip our officers with these kits after seeing the benefits of officers having them in both Lafayette and at the Virginia Tech shooting,” he said. “At any active shootings and other emergencies officers are usually the first ones on the scene and EMT’s are not allowed to go in until the threat is neutralized. If an officer can slip a on a tourniquet or apply some special gauze to stop bleeding until EMT’s can get inside it could mean the difference between life and death for some victims.”

Dunnam said the mayor’s office approved a request to use BRPD reserve funds for the purchase. But Delgado said he’d still like to see the city-parish use general funds so BRPD doesn’t have to dip into its limited resources.


Three dead in Lafayette movie theater shooting

Lafayette theater shooting first responders relied on training, focused on task at hand

Indepth look at John “Rusty” Houser, the Lafayette movie theater shooter

Davis campaigns on ‘woman’s place is in the kitchen’ comment

Paula Davis flier front smaller

Paula Davis, who is running for the Louisiana Legislature’s District 69 House of Representatives Seat, is now using a remark that she called offensive as fuel for her campaign.

Davis, a Republican, is running against fellow Republican Ryan Heck and Democrat Mark Holden for the seat. When she sought the nomination of the local Republican party, one member commented that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” which he later said was intended as a joke.

Davis has now sent mailers to people in her district with the quote, “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” She highlights her background as former deputy commissioner of insurance for the Office of Property and Casualty and calls herself “the most experienced and most qualified” candidate in the race.

Paula Davis flier back smallerPlaying up the “woman’s place” comment, the flier shows a woman wearing a checkered apron and includes a recipe for “Mamit’s Syrup Cake.”

“For the record, I’m pretty good in the kitchen, too,” Davis writes. “Try this recipe, I bet you’ll love it!”

Heck, a Metro Councilman, has outfundraised Davis thus far. With more than $216,000 in contributions, he has nearly twice the amount of money as Davis. However, about half of Heck’s campaign money is from his personal funds, according to campaign finance reports.

Holden has raised no money, according to his campaign finance report.


Woman’s place is in the kitchen: Comment Baton Rouge GOP committee member made in jest shocks legislative candidate

East Baton Rouge council members jump into legislative races

Last minute qualifying fills out races and forces rare campaign for East Baton Rouge clerk of court

Smokie Bourgeois says he’s running for East Baton Rouge mayor president


Former Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois says he’s running for mayor-president next year.

Bourgeois was a councilman for one term in District 12 before he lost his re-election bid to John Delgado. Bourgeois, known for his irreverent sense of humor, was an outspoken opponent of funding for downtown projects.

The Republican advocated against building a new library downtown, and he also spoke out against the dedicated property tax proposal to fund the Capital Area Transit System in 2012. Both measures passed.

Bourgeois, who owns the three George’s restaurants in Baton Rouge, has casually floated his candidacy for years. On Monday, he said he’s still “absolutely” going to run for the parish’s top spot.

So far, only State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome has officially announced her intentions to run. She will be a formidable opponent for anyone who jumps in the race.

Delgado, a Republican, is also a likely candidate, though he has not yet declared formally. Bourgeois said he wouldn’t run for his old council seat again, “because you can’t get anything done at the council.”


Sharon Weston Broome off to early start with 2016 mayoral campaign

Staring Lane expansion pleases some, dismays other

CATS starts e-commerce so customers can buy tickets online

The Capital Area Transit System is now allowing people to buy bus passes online, at its website, in an effort to improve customer service and increase ridership.

“We are pleased to have this feature active on the website,” said CATS CEO Bob Mirabito. “We know that our customers will enjoy the convenience of purchasing our passes from the comfort of their homes. We are constantly striving to be as customer-friendly as possible, and this is one more way we can achieve that.”

Multi-ride passes have previously had to be purchased from designated brick and mortar sites, primarily the CATS terminal on Florida boulevard.

The passes for purchase are: all day, seven day, 15 day, 31 day and Touchdown Express for LSU’s remaining home games.


CATS struggles to attract ‘Riders of Choice’ and announces two route cuts. 

CATS offering Touchdown Express

CATS making improvements but still lagging on tax promise delivery

Mosquito Abatement building gets $3.9 million more for construction, council members forget they once opposed it

The Baton Rouge Metro Council easily approved an additional $3.9 million for the construction of a new facility for the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control department.

Some of the same council members who approved the extra money on Wednesday criticized it for being excessive use of tax payer dollars earlier this year.

The pest department is planning to consolidate its facilities on the property of the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. The Metro Council recently approved $6.5 million to construct the facility which was part of a larger budget supplement approved earlier this year.

However, the contract with the previous architect Crump Wilsons was terminated after construction cost estimates increased. A new firm, RCL Architecture, provided new plans with a total cost of $8.7 million for the project.

All of the funds come from the department’s own savings collected from its dedicated property tax. So the Metro Council is effectively giving the agency authority to use its own money to build the new facility.

It appeared unclear earlier this year if the Metro Council would allow the agency to move forward with construction. In March, the council nearly refused to allow the agency to approve a $600,000 contract for planning costs associated with the new building.

Several members of the council were eyeing departments they felt were sitting on what they perceived as rich surplus funds that they felt indicated the taxes were too high.

“You’re caught in a bad political dilemma right now because we’re looking for money for facilities and other buildings and to say we’re going to spend $8, $9, $10 million dollars on a mosquito abatement building — it’s not something I can justify to my constituents,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe. Loupe voted against approving the funding in March along with four other council members.

The measure was narrowly approved for the planning funds.

Mosquito abatement Director Todd Walker responded at the time that the agency had long been saving for the building and was trying to avoid issuing bonds or using financing to save tax payers money.

On Wednesday, only council members Ryan Heck and Scott Wilson voted against the construction funding. Donna Collins-Lewis and Ronnie Edwards were absent.


Mosquito Abatement Agency catches ire of some Metro Council over planned spending 

Planning board to vote on proposed Government Street beer garden tonight

beer garden

A proposal to rezone land on Government Street to make way for a new beer garden will voted on tonight by the Baton Rouge Planning Commission.

The proposed bar is being pitched by the owners of the popular Radio Bar, also located on Government Street, which has been a welcomed addition to the neighborhood by residents of Ogden Park and Mid-City.

The land, at the corner of Government Street and Steele Boulevard, is currently vacant. It’s zoned light commercial today, and will need to be rezoned to “Commercial Alcoholic Beverage two” in order to be consistent with the uses of a bar, under city-parish zoning laws. The meeting tonight starts at 5 p.m. and is in City Hall.

The proposed bar has received mostly positive feedback from residents in the surrounding areas — except for those who live on Steele Boulevard. Some of those residents who will be direct neighbors to the bar have expressed concern about cars parked down their street, noise and safety concerns.

Bar owners have said they will be mindful of noise concerns, and are planning a variety of barriers and buffers, including natural vegetation, a wood fence and masonry wall.

The Baton Rouge Metro Council will have final approval on the rezoning of the property next month.


Radio Bar owners planning Mid City beer garden that’ll serve food, show sporting events

– Many welcome a new beer garden proposed for Mid City; but it made at least one homeowner’s heart drop

– Beer garden developers promise to contain noise at proposed Government Street establishment


Wine, beer spirits! More tastings may come to Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge Metro Council members are mulling changes to alcohol ordinances that would allow for more tastings and better define microbreweries. The Tin Roof Brewing Co. is one establishment that could positively benefit from the changes. Advocate staff photo.

Baton Rouge Metro Council members are mulling changes to alcohol ordinances that would allow for more tastings and better define microbreweries. The Tin Roof Brewing Co. is one establishment that could positively benefit from the changes. Advocate staff photo.

Baton Rouge might open the door for more beer, wine and spirits tastings at retail locations across the city, as Metro Council members will soon consider changing how the city regulates them.

Two items going before the Metro Council in the next couple weeks could affect the city’s alcohol ordinances.

The first is focused on tasting, and would allow retail locations to buy licenses to hold tastings for wine, beer and liquor. Currently, most retail locations are only allowed to let customers sample wine unless they have a special event permit, according to Councilman Buddy Amoroso.

The second change would give a microbreweries a more up-to-date definition in city ordinances, now that the craft beer trend has taken off in the Baton Rouge area.

Amoroso is sponsoring the sampling ordinance update and cosponsoring the microbrewery change. He said one of the main goals is bringing Baton Rouge’s rules up-to-date with state alcohol regulations.

“We’re making it easier for these retailers to be able to have sampling, but there would still be controls in place,” Amoroso said.

Sampling licenses would cost $120 a year, or retailers could also purchase a one-time permit for $60.

The concept of wine tasting in Baton Rouge is still relatively new, as Amoroso said they started to allow only wine tasting around a decade ago.

The microbreweries ordinance would also allow for microbrewers and microdistillers to obtain licenses specifically geared toward them. Amoroso said the ordinances were written before the concept of microbreweries existed, and current laws are aimed at larger beer manufacturers.

“It’s really to kind of help the craft beer emerging industry,” Amoroso said.

The ordinances should be introduced to the Metro Council on September 23, and the council is expected to vote on them in October.


-Painting franchise hopeful Metro Council amends alcohol ordinance

-Grab your passport: Tin Roof showcases international flavors

-Tin Roof now canning its beer

Kress building will house temporary downtown library

This photo shows Baton Rouge's current River Center Branch Library, which will soon be torn down and a new one will be built. In the meantime, a smaller version of the library will operate out of the old Kress Building. Advocate Staff Photo.

This photo shows Baton Rouge’s current River Center Branch Library, which will soon be torn down and a new one will be built. In the meantime, a smaller version of the library will operate out of the old Kress Building. Advocate Staff Photo.


A smaller version of the downtown River Center Branch Library will operate out of the old Kress Building on 3rd Street while the new, modern library is being constructed.

Library staffers are hoping to start accepting bids in the next couple months for the new library’s construction. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board voted Thursday on using the building at 447 3rd Street, next to Restaurant IPO, as their temporary library while the new one is being built.

“We would like to at least maintain a foothold so people who work and live in that area would still have access to services,” said Library Director Spencer Watts.

The 8,750 square foot building is expected to cost between $20 and $22 per square foot for the library to rent. The library has already budgeted $250,000 for rental costs for next year.

The temporary library site will not be able to fit everything that the current building, and eventual future one, can contain. It has just enough space to fit 15 or so computers, a children’s section, a section for books that are frequently checked out and a space for book storage.

Assistant Library Director Mary Stein said the library staff faced many challenges in finding a temporary location for the library. She said downtown rent prices are high and many buildings lack necessary features for a library, like restrooms.

The Library Board also voted to rent space at 415 North 15th Street for storage space for books and other collection items.


Baton Rouge Library Director begins pitch to voters to renew library’s property tax

Library applies for permit for new downtown branch

Construction on downtown River Center library delayed