The Metro Council on Wednesday defeated a proposal to temporarily cease new construction in the high-risk floodplain in East Baton Rouge.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso called on his colleagues to summon "two seconds of courage" and vote to prevent developers from erecting new buildings in the areas where federally-backed mortgage lenders require flood insurance, also known known as A-zones and special flood hazard areas.
An East Baton Rouge metro council member is calling for a six-month moratorium on new constr…
Parish staff is currently reviewing the city-parish's flood ordinance to recommend new codes, and Amoroso pleaded with the rest of the council for a six-month "time-out" on new construction until they complete the task.
Residents have expressed worries that new subdivisions would push water onto their own homes, fearing a repeat of last summer's flood or the devastation wrought in Houston by Hurricane Harvey.
"We recognize the consequence of lax zoning," Gerald Kennedy said.
"There's been a lot of suffering in my life over the last 14 months," remarked Rebecca Adams.
"I understand our building codes are decades old. Baton Rouge is not the same city it was decades ago. … Our building codes need to be updated," she continued.
Developers countered with arguments that won over most council members. Moments before, the council had signed a resolution trying to entice Amazon to south Louisiana as the company scouts locations for a new headquarters.
Baton Rouge can't tell investors like the online retailer that it's going to stop development, said Dwayne Gafford, president of the Capital Area Builders Association. He also advocated on behalf of construction workers.
"It's about people's livelihoods. … It is personal," he said.
Ultimately, only council member Chauna Banks joined Amoroso in supporting a moratorium. The others voted against it, minus absent Trae Welch.
However, those council members opposed emphasized they still want to reform the Unified Development Code. Dwight Hudson and Erika Green — who often represent opposite sides of the political spectrum — have co-sponsored a new rule to be considered later this month that would demand new developments be built to retain more water so less would slosh onto adjacent properties.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker remarked that the proposed moratorium just wasn't the right tool for the job.
"We're kind of using a shotgun when really we only need a pistol," she quipped.
In another contentious matter, the council took on the subject of police officers making extra money while on leave.
The matter came up after reports that Blane Salamoni, an officer on administrative leave, was working extra duty for a bank while under investigation in the July 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, interim chief Jonny Dunnam said.
Dunnam said former Police Chief Carl Dabadie didn't know that Salamoni was working extra duty at that time.
The Metro Council called the Baton Rouge Police Department to explain what Dunnam has called a "loophole" in its policy.
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks joined a growing number of local leaders Wednesday calling f…
He and the police union representative said there had been a distinction between officers wearing a uniform and carrying a commission and merely scheduling those shifts and filling out paperwork, as Salamoni did for Whitney Bank.
However, others were frustrated that Salamoni was apparently able to profit from his position as an officer while under investigation by the state Attorney General for the fatal on-duty shooting of Sterling.
"We need to be very careful of the message we're sending to the world … because the message to the world is 'I can kill someone and still make money,' or at least, that's the perception," said council member LaMont Cole.
Officers are allowed to work up to 16 hours per day, and after their department shifts are finished, they can contract with private businesses to work what's known as extra duty, for which they are paid a minimum of $30 per hour, Dunnam explained.
However, officers may also be paid for overseeing those arrangements, though the set-up is more fluid.
BRPD Union President Bryan Taylor compared the latter to a pilot who is put on leave and schedules flights rather than flying planes himself.
Contracts with private businesses are between the officer and the company. They must report some data like hours worked so as not to become too fatigued for duty, but not other information like pay, Dunnam explained.
Police can't work in some places like bars and casinos, so the chief has to sign off on all new contracts, but then they're handled through an extra duty office, which had been led by a civilian with 17 years experience who had been trained to segregate administrative and regular extra duty, Dunnam said. Dabadie didn't know Salamoni was still working for the bank until the media began requesting his extra-duty paperwork.
The acting chief acknowledged the sense of impropriety and said the department last month stopped allowing officers on administrative leave to work administrative extra duty. The department has also put a sergeant over the extra duty office.
But for some, it appeared to be too little, too late.
It undermines public trust when residents see police "bending" the rules or indicating that "some officers on the force feel like the rules don't apply to them," said Jennifer Hardin of the Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge.
The lack of transparency and apparent apathy have left a stench of dereliction of duty around city hall, Rouge Collection publisher Gary Chambers added.
Wearing a shirt emblazoned with the hashtag "#FireSalamoni," Chambers called the officer "a disgrace to the badge."
Taylor defended Salamoni, several times repeating that in the eyes of the law, he is still innocent of any wrongdoing.
While previous meetings saw members of the public tossed for speaking out of turn or off-topic during public debate, no one was escorted out of chambers Wednesday. Unlike in previous meetings helmed by Pro Tem Scott Wilson, on Wednesday Donna Collins-Lewis wielded the gavel.
Collins-Lewis was among the voices calling for Salamoni's dismissal, saying he would qualify for "actions unbecoming of an officer."
She also once again pleaded with the AG's office to complete its investigation so the city can heal.