A Metro Council meeting, packed with agenda items that have garnered intense public interest, was abruptly adjourned Wednesday night before any major action could be taken because too many members left the council chambers.
The meeting ended just minutes after Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker announced a deal had been reached privately between council members and Mayor-President Kip Holden that would have paved the way for the approval of the disputed stage canopy in Galvez Plaza.
The council lost its quorum, after council members Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Scott Wilson, C. Denise Marcelle and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois left their seats.
Council members Ronnie Edwards and Chandler Loupe were absent from the meeting.
Walker and council members Trae Welch, Donna Collins-Lewis, Tara Wicker, Alison Gary and Joel Boé remained in the council chambers.
There must be seven of the 12 members in the room to maintain a quorum, or else the meeting is ended.
“I have no choice,” said Walker, who adjourned the meeting. “It’s the law.”
Council Administrator Brian Mayers, who has worked for the East Baton Rouge city-parish government for more than 25 years, said he does not recall a council meeting ever ending because the quorum was lost.
Wilson, who was just outside of the council chambers talking to city-parish staff on an issue, said it was a regrettable mistake.
“The people deserve better than this,” he said. “I’m sorry to the public and the people who were there.”
Marcelle and Addison were also outside the chambers speaking privately, and Bourgeois said he went to the restroom.
Walker said he intends to call a special meeting so the council can move forward with some agenda items.
Holden said it was unfortunate the meeting had to end, but called it a “great day for Baton Rouge” because an important compromise had been struck between himself and Walker, who have in recent months been engaging in a very public feud.
“The public needs to understand that tonight, even though they talk about us bickering, there was a common effort between the pro tem (Walker) and myself to resolve an issue and move forward, and we did our best to try to make that happen,” Holden said after the meeting.
In the middle of the meeting, Walker left his seat to speak privately with Holden. Walker said the mayor told him he would agree to a plan that had been proposed earlier by Addison.
If the council approved the $900,000 stage cover, which was nearly killed by the council two weeks ago, Holden said he would put an item on the agenda that would free up $1.5 million of general fund money that can be put toward bridge construction projects.
The $1.5 million comes from a riverfront levee project that had been approved years ago but was not started.
Holden said the riverfront levee project could be deferred, and that money, which is dedicated to riverfront projects, would be put toward the North Boulevard Town Square project.
The town square project had a $1.5 million allocation from the city-parish’s general fund, which would now be freed up to use for bridges under the proposed agreement reached Wednesday.
Several council members said they were not aware of the deal until Walker spoke with them during the meeting.
After Walker’s private discussion with Holden, he huddled with the rest of council members, who were seated, in small groups to fill them in on the last-minute deal.
Councilman Joel Boé protested the negotiation.
“It’s extremely disappointing we’re horse trading other money from other projects,” he said minutes before the meeting ended. “It’s frustrating to sit here and see what’s going on.”
Boé said he supported the stage canopy based on the merits of that project alone.
The stage canopy was designed as a iconic stainless steel structure that will also meet the functional needs for Galvez Plaza shows and concerts. Its funding is dedicated to the riverfront projects, but some council members earlier this month objected because of safety concerns and objections about the cost of the downtown project.
At least two council members, who had previously voted against the canopy, said Wednesday they were prepared to support the stage canopy as part of the tradeoff with the mayor.
Walker, who called the canopy “atrocious” early this month, said he would support it because it was the only way to get the money for the bridges.
Wilson also said after the meeting that he would have supported the canopy as part of the deal.
The early end to the meeting also meant the council was not able to discuss an item urging the parish Library Board to cease its plans to build a new downtown library, and instead renovate the existing facility.
“It’s frustrating because we talk about these things week after week, and we defer them and now we have a backlog of items we’re never going to catch up on,” Boé said. “We’re delaying projects that are time sensitive items, not just the canopy and the library, but other things that are critical.”
In other business Wednesday, the council deferred the approval of the franchise agreement for EATEL, a Gonzales-based internet, cable and television service provider. The vote to defer the EATEL item for two weeks came after two other votes failed to approve the agreement.