Voters may be deciding in October whether to add three seats to both the parks and library control boards thus giving representation to the cities of Baker, Central and Zachary.
The Metro Council on Wednesday night approved two measures authored by Councilman Scott Wilson that attempt to give the northern municipalities a louder voice concerning the operations of the agencies that collect the two largest property taxes in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Expanding the Library Board of Control from seven to 10 members will appear on the fall ballot.
But the item affecting the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission hinges on a similar bill making its way through the Legislature, because BREC’s board is created by state statute.
“BREC has done a lot for this community,” he said. “But the parish has changed since BREC first came around as far as numbers and growing. Areas like Central have felt neglected for years.”
The BREC bill would expand the board from nine to 12 members.
The approval flew in the face of persistent opposition from Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration and from some residents.
John Carpenter, Holden’s chief administrative officer, said it’s bad policy to give only some areas designated representation on a board.
Both the BREC and library boards are made up of at-large members. The change would give Baker, Zachary and Central designated members, while at-large members would represent the remaining areas of the parish that make up most of the population.
Carpenter said the change gives the three cities, which make up less than 13 percent of the parish, disproportionate voting strength.
Craig Freeman, a School Board member who is a BREC commissioner, said commissioners work together to serve parish interests.
“I’m concerned that we will lose that level of cooperation if we get members appointed to a particular area,” he said. “There could be fighting to make sure one person gets one thing or another person gets another thing.”
Long-time BREC volunteer Audrey Nabors Jackson said it heavily relies on committees to gather information, and they include representation from the three cities.
“BREC does not need to be reorganized,” she said. “It amazes me that when something goes fine, people feel the need to go on and tear it up.”
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle noted that northern parts of the parish have consistently had two representatives on the BREC board for the past 20 years.
She said the change could open the door for more communities asking for specified representation.
“I see this as something that’s going to divide Baton Rouge instead of bringing it together,” she said. “If we change this we’ll be setting a precedent and we’ll be opening up cans of worms.”
Marcelle offered a substitute motion — to have representatives from planning commissions in each of the parish’s four cities study the issue and return with a recommendation within 30 days. The motion failed.
Metro Council members approved the BREC bill, 8-2, with Marcelle and Tara Wicker dissenting.
In favor of the motion were council members Trae Welch, Wilson, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, Mike Walker, Joel Boé, Alison Cascio, and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois.
The library vote passed, 9-1, with only Wicker dissenting.
Chandler Loupe and Ulysses “Bones” Addison were absent from the meeting.
In other business:
WATER SUPPLY: Bourgeois asked a local hydrology student to give a presentation about the threat of salt water spoiling Baton Rouge’s freshwater supply.
Hays Town, son of the renowned architect by the same name, said the parish’s freshwater aquifers, the source of Baton Rouge’s drinking water, could be ruined by salt water leaking into them.
The problem is being exacerbated by industries that pull excessively from the aquifers, he said.
Bourgeois said he wants to draw attention to the issue so companies such as Georgia Pacific and Exxon are encouraged to “be a good neighbor” and use river water for their purposes.
LIQUOR LICENSES: The council also approved a 60-day moratorium on issuing liquor licenses in Old South Baton Rouge over concerns about too many liquor stores in the area.
Wicker said she wants time to study the notification process, which is supposed to give the community time to protest the permit, and evaluate the Alcohol and Beverage Control board’s ability to deny requests.