The debate over whether three new members should be added to the parish’s recreation and park commission continued Monday night at a BREC board of commissioners meeting that ended in a unanimous vote to ask the Louisiana attorney general to issue an opinion.
Some Metro Council members want to see three members added to the board of the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission to represent Zachary, Baker and Central.
They have argued the northern areas of the parish are being underrepresented by BREC.
While the vote to seek an opinion was unanimous, there was some argument from commissioners and members of the public about whether it was appropriate to go against the Metro Council’s wishes.
BREC Commissioner Burt Neal initially called the action a “slap in the face to the Metro Council” that appoints six of the nine commissioners.
“We serve at the pleasure of the Metro Council, and the Metro Council already has voted indicating they want to send this to a vote,” Neal said. “Is it this commission’s responsibility or place to question their authority?”
After a bill died this summer in the Legislature that would have allowed for the constitutionally created board to be changed, Councilman Scott Wilson said he would continue to push for the change through a public vote.
Parish Attorney Mary Roper has said the home rule charter trumps the need for legislative action.
On Friday, Roper wrote the attorney general asking for an opinion.
BREC attorney Murphy Foster III advised BREC commissioners to also file a separate request for an opinion, which would give them an opportunity to present the most pertinent facts.
The commissioners opted to not take a formal position on the issue at Monday’s meeting, but several members expressed their personal views during the discussion.
Commission Chairman Bill Benedetto said he “resents and takes exception” to the notion that BREC doesn’t represent the full parish.
“I’m really bewildered by what I hear when they say there need better representation,” he said. “Because whenever they’re asked specifically what they’re not getting, they can never tell you.”
Neal argued Central, Zachary and Baker residents feel left out of BREC’s decision-making process, and opposing the board’s expansion could hurt BREC in its tax election in 2014.
BREC’s funding comes almost entirely from a voter-approved property tax.
“If we alienate these people from this commission, we may not get their support later on,” he said.
The three proposed seats would be the only regionally designated positions. BREC commissioners serve at-large.
“But we do represent them,” Vice Chairman Verge Ausberry Jr. said. “I guarantee that.”
Baker Mayor Harold Rideau said he was appalled by commissioners alleging they equitably represent all areas.
“It’s not true and it’s not happening,” he said.
When Ausberry asked him why he had never contacted BREC about his concerns before now, Rideau responded angrily.
“Do I need to run behind and kiss your asses to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing?” he said.
A former BREC assistant superintendent, Ray May, reminded the commission the three northern municipalities have demonstrated a history of dissatisfaction.
Both Baker and Zachary have in the past taken matters into their own hands by building their own parks, and Central has attempted to disband from BREC all together.
“Things have changed,” May said. “When this board was formed there was one city and all the kids went to the same public schools. Now there’s four cities and four school districts and they all want representation.”