East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Thursday he’s working with other parish law enforcement officials to develop a spending plan for federal Homeland Security grants and is ready to move forward, even if Mayor-President Kip Holden isn’t on board.
“I’ve been trying to get something done on this for over a year now,” Gautreaux said. “We just want to move on and do our job.”
Holden, who did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday, has challenged state rules that require the sheriff’s signature on applications for certain Homeland Security grants.
At issue are four grants for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, totaling $4 million, which are on hold pending a resolution of the dispute. A 25 percent share is designated for law enforcement purposes.
Gautreaux said he met Wednesday with the city constable and the police chiefs of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary to discuss the best use of money from two of the grants.
He said three representatives from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness also attended the meeting to provide guidance on the types of expenses that are allowed.
“We agreed it would be best to do something that benefits all of us — equipment, training programs or both,” Gautreaux said.
Those who attended said it was a productive meeting that knitted parish law enforcement agencies together in common cause.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White said he is trying to forge better relations with the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies, calling it “imperative to our agency’s continued success.”
White said he wasn’t aware when he agreed to attend the meeting that the Homeland Security grants being discussed were among those in the ongoing dispute between the sheriff and mayor.
“Having known the circumstances, I would have asked the mayor for his guidance before attending,” White said.
Gautreaux said White left a favorable impression with the sheriff at the meeting.
“He displayed a tremendous willingness to work with us and the other agencies involved,” Gautreaux said. “It’s refreshing. I’m really encouraged by it.”
Others attending agreed the joint meeting of law enforcement officials was productive.
“I do feel like we’re all on the same page,” said Zachary Police Chief David Courtney.
“We’re going to move forward to work as a unified group for the betterment of all the people of the parish.”
Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said he was “tremendously pleased” with Wednesday’s meeting.
“The first thing the sheriff said is, ‘We will decide what we do with our money, and we’re going to make it work for all of the people of East Baton Rouge Parish,’ ” Knaps said.
He credited Gautreaux with moving the process forward, and said agency heads left the 90-minute meeting with a pledge to continue working closely together.
“We’re going to bring the metro area together,” Knaps said. “We’re going to do things as a group a lot more than as independents.”
Knaps said White, who was recently appointed Baton Rouge police chief, made a positive impression on the group.
“If he is allowed to do what he wants to do, the city of Baton Rouge is going to be a much safer place,” Knaps said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the discussion focused on two State Homeland Security Program grants totaling $1.1 million for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
The law enforcement share of those grants is $330,270, according to officials at GOHSEP, the state agency that administers the grants.
GOHSEP Deputy Director Clay Rives said the city-parish’s applications for those grants — along with two other, larger grants under the Urban Area Security Initiative program — are considered incomplete because they were submitted without the sheriff’s review and signature.
Holden has argued that GOHSEP lacks legal authority to impose that requirement on federal grants that GOHSEP administers.
Rives, who attended Wednesday’s meeting in Gautreaux’s office, said the idea behind the state’s rule is to give the chief law enforcement officer of each parish a role in deciding how grant funds earmarked for law enforcement purposes are spent.
GOHSEP Director Mark Cooper said in an interview last month that the state agency will look for “alternative ways to identify appropriate expenditures for the grant money” if the mayor refuses to follow the state’s rules.
“Of course, one option is for the state to take over the grants and administer them to East Baton Rouge Parish based on grant guidelines,” Cooper said then.
Rives said GOHSEP remains hopeful that the impasse in East Baton Rouge Parish can be resolved so the state doesn’t have to intervene.