The business, community and civic leaders on Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's handpicked transition teams on Wednesday presented her with their sweeping suggestions for making Baton Rouge a better place to live, covering everything from law enforcement to race relations, economic development and delivering public services.
The recommendations came on Broome's 75th day in office (but who's counting, she joked) and set the stage for her to finally begin enacting her vision for East Baton Rouge Parish since taking over the reins of city-parish government nearly three months ago.
They acknowledge problems that have long distressed residents — traffic jams, an economically lagging north Baton Rouge and the challenge of providing quality public education in a parish where many families choose to send their children to private schools.
The reports address public safety concerns, such as the need to equip officers with body cameras and to replace the crumbling, "bordering on cruel and inhumane" jail. One portion expresses grave concerns about the proposed incorporation of St. George, which it discusses through the lens of the "race relations" report.
Fixing outdated infrastructure could be a battle for the new administration because it requires additional sources of revenue.
On the same day in December voters elected Broome, they turned down a 5-mill property tax to fund a new phase of the Green Light Plan to improve and widen local roads.
Transition team members wrote approvingly of the work the first Green Light Program has done, and one report remarked that "Mayor-President Broome has the opportunity to lead a broader and more effective community discussion on this matter, allowing a future revenue raising effort to be successful."
The report makes frequent reference to "revenue enhancement measures."
"All options — including increases in taxes and fees, whether general or dedicated — should be discussed and presented as valid strategies to increase general fund and capital fund improvement revenues," the finance team wrote.
"When the transition report started talking about raising taxes I stopped reading," said Republican Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe, the only council member reached Wednesday afternoon who had begun reading the 154-page document.
A new parish prison would also be a costly endeavor. Former Mayor-President Kip Holden couldn't secure $200 million in funding that would have supported such a project.
Broome's public safety transition team has also called for a new juvenile detention center to replace the current site, which the report says is outdated.
The public safety transition team also noted the shortage of officers, specifically in the patrol division. Further, the team echoed calls by the district attorney's office to add positions at the jail to identify arrestees who may have mental health needs and to help people being released transition back into the outside world and stay out of jail.
Other policing recommendations included petitioning the state to amend civil service law about law enforcement complaints, outfitting all officers with body cameras and encouraging businesses to install surveillance cameras and work with officers.
In other areas, one of the public works transition teams advocated for shrinking the government in favor of privatization.
One of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's transition committees has recommended fusing t…
The Environmental Services Department which oversees wastewater treatment, hasn't staffed enough employees and had to hire contractors to perform sewer repairs, which are now being done "faster, and in the long run, cheaper," the team’s report says.
The development transition team called on the mayor to immediately put out a call for businesses who can take over other public works-type jobs such as inspections and building plan reviews. Code and blight enforcement were also mentioned as areas of ongoing flood recovery that fall under city-parish control.
A separate development team looked specifically at how to encourage growth in north Baton Rouge. The group advanced several ideas for collaborative projects. The team proposed forming a worker-owned co-op based on an existing model in Cleveland and developing a community land trust like one adopted in Boston.
There were also calls for more partnerships with schools, universities and businesses and a call for the city-parish to look at tax credits, tax increment financing and other incentive programs to encourage commercial growth.
Transition staff also urged the mayor-president to prioritize economic development parish-wide. Baton Rouge is already getting less than its share of state and federal small business development funds, they wrote.
As state money dries up, the economic development and enterprise team wrote, the city-parish will need to invest in projects that promote Baton Rouge to businesses. They advised looking to the airport district, which owns land with tax incentives, as well as exploring opportunities at Howell Place and on the former Earl K. Long Hospital property, which the city-parish owns.
On the south side of the parish, writers expressed concerns over St. George incorporation efforts. The discussion of that topic included commentary on race and segregation in education since the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and encouraged the mayor to seek common ground but to prepare "an all-out campaign to defeat the incorporation campaign" should attempts at compromise fail.
"Currently, a small minority of the parish's citizens would have power to visit economic carnage on the rest of the parish," the transition team on race relations wrote.
They urged city-parish leaders to block future incorporation attempts by pushing for higher petition requirements and by backing proposed state legislation that would require the matter to be put to a vote of the whole parish.
In Baton Rouge, the parish School Board rules over public primary education decisions, though Broome's transition team wrote at length about matters involving school children as well as college students. In fact, members wrote a segment specifically examining "the unique role of an education mayor-president."
The report pointed to municipal leaders in Indianapolis, where the mayor has charter school authority, and to other cities such as Denver, Louisville and Philadelphia where mayors have played a role in education — from weighing in on teachers' contracts to linking schools with social services to helping select school board members.
The transition team also wrote about the city's role in related services, such as providing pre-kindergarten opportunities and programming for students in the afternoons and during the summer.
Wednesday afternoon, Broome's assistant chief administrative officers — she hasn't hired a chief yet — said they hadn't yet had a chance to thoroughly review the transition teams' findings.
In an email, the mayor-president emphasized that the reports are "recommendations — not mandates."
"I will look at the recommendations closely and plan to implement those that are aligned with my vision and those which will help move the city-parish government to a standard of excellence," Broome wrote. "In the weeks to follow, I will highlight some of the ideas from the transition report; especially those covering top priorities (flood recovery, public safety, economic development, transportation, education)."
Editor's note: This article was changed on Thursday, March 16, 2017, to note that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision on school segregation was issued in 1954.