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Metro Councilman Scott Wilson, left and Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, right, discuss an issue during a Metro Council meeting Wednesday night.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis chided her fellow council members Wednesday for postponing a vote on who should fill the position of vice mayor pro tem — a post Collins-Lewis is seeking.

Scott Wilson was elected mayor pro tem when council members were inaugurated on Jan. 2. In that capacity, he essentially serves as the council's chairman and runs Metro Council meetings.

Wilson won the job over Collins-Lewis in a vote that split on racial and party lines. The seven white Republicans voted for Wilson; the five black Democrats voted for Collins-Lewis.

Council members were expected to select a vice mayor pro tem, who would run meetings in Wilson's absence, during their meeting on Wednesday.

Councilwoman Erika Green nominated Collins-Lewis and called for amending the Plan of Government to specify that the vice pro tem  run meetings in the mayor pro tem's absence, and that he or she be paid an additional $750 a month.

Voter approval is required to amending the Plan of Government, which is essentially the city-parish constitution.

Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson told Green the Metro Council could not attach additional compensation to the job, as the Plan of Government currently prohibits council members from receiving additional money for their council jobs aside from their salaries of $12,000 a year.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso then said the vice pro tem has historically been a chairman of a committee, but it's unclear whether the Metro Council will have committees this year. Metro Councilman Trae Welch and a few others agreed council members should hammer out the details of committees and the vice pro tem position at an upcoming retreat.

"Before I vote on this, I would like to have more meat on the bones of what this position entails," said newcomer Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg.

A few minutes after the council decided to postpone a vote on the issue until Feb. 8, Collins-Lewis asked to delete item, rather than postpone it.

She blamed racial politics for preventing her from receiving the post, saying it was a "sad day" that the council had to discuss the complexities of it at length.

"No matter what anybody says, we started this council off the same way we start it off every four years: voting down racial lines for the mayor pro tem," Collins-Lewis said. "I'm just going to put it out there."

Fight looms in Central over proposed development 

Central authorities are gearing up for a Valentine's Day fight over a proposed 172-acre mixed-use development across the street from the local high school.

The city council was supposed to hear the matter on Tuesday but deferred for a month to deal with last-minute changes by the developer. The plan for The Lakes at Woodland Grove, as presented, call for 175 single-family lots and an office park on the north side of Wax Road just east of Sullivan Road.

However, the city would have to rezone the land, which is classified as agricultural, to allow the development.

Leaders in Central have clashed over whether and how to allow more construction in flood plains. The Lakes at Woodland Grove land is located within a high-risk flood zone. When the plans came up to the planning commission, it did not win approval from then-chairman Paul Burns, who has since resigned in protest of city council efforts to allow more floodplain construction. However, the plans passed with a 5-2 majority.

In addition to the floodplain concerns, the development would be located on a two-lane road across from the high school.

Mayor Jr. Shelton said he expects a contentious hearing when the matter returns for the city council's meeting on Feb. 14, which will be held at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Baton Rouge high schools involved in safety research study 

Four Baton Rouge public high schools are among 16 in Louisiana and Michigan participating in a federally-funded research study of ways to improve school safety by working more effectively with students who have behavioral and mental health issues.

The $172,000 four-year grant was signed last month, but awaits approval Jan. 19 by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. The board gave tentative approval at its meeting on Thursday.

The grant pays participating high schools to institute school safety efforts that have proven successful in the past in improving safety and student health at other high schools in the past.

Specifically, it funds creation of school-level teams made of educators, law enforcement officers, behavioral health representatives and someone representing families. The teams will try to sort out student mental health issues and head off problems. The grant also funds training sessions for school resource officers at participating schools.

Glen Oaks and Tara high schools are first up, and are to receive training and assistance during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Belaire and Broadmoor high schools will follow in 2019-20. The grant expires in June 2020.

The money comes from the National Institute of Justice, which is the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. Policy Research Associates Inc., which is based near Albany, N.Y, will handle the training and the research to see how it’s all working.

The research team will, among other things, track student attendance, grades, discipline records, screenings for behavioral health, and referrals from “community-based service providers,” referrals to juvenile court and school-based arrests. Those who end up in the criminal justice system or get medical help will have their progress monitored as well.

“It’s been a very long difficult summer in Baton Rouge and when you look at mental health and behavioral health we felt like that would be a good fit for us,” said Pat Friedrich, district grant writer.

Advocate staff writers Andrea Gallo, Steve Hardy and Charles Lussier contributed to this article.