Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell’s office was asked Friday for a legal opinion on a proposal to change the makeup of the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission.
Some Metro Council members want to place an item on the Oct. 22 ballot to let the public decide whether to add three members to BREC. They would represent Zachary, Baker and Central.
But questions have arisen as to whether that can be done without the approval of the state Legislature because BREC was created by state statute.
Parish Attorney Mary Roper wrote Caldwell’s office a letter dated Friday seeking an opinion on the issue.
Her letter includes a detailed legal analysis that argues the change does not require legislative approval and can be made through a parishwide vote to amend the East Baton Rouge Parish Plan of Government.
The move to add three new members to the nine-member parks commission has been strongly opposed by Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration as well as some BREC board members and volunteers.
They argue it’s bad policy to designate seats on BREC for certain areas, and would allow three cities, which make up less than 13 percent of the parish population, to wield disproportionate voting strength on the board.
Murphy J. Foster III, an attorney representing BREC, advised BREC Chairman Bill Benedetto in a memo last month that he doesn’t think the Metro Council has the legal authority to do what it is attempting.
“(I)t remains my opinion that the Metro Council has no authority to alter the composition of the BREC Board,” Foster wrote. “Submitting the proposal for a vote of the people as suggested by the Metro Council is inconsequential inasmuch as any such change would require the appropriate legislation to be passed.”
He cited an attorney general’s opinion from 2006 that said the Metro Council could not change the terms of BREC commissioners from three years to four years because it would conflict with the state statute creating BREC.
In her letter, Roper cited a 1996 attorney general’s opinion involving the Library Board of Control that came to a different conclusion on a similar question of law.
Attorney general’s opinions are just that — opinions. They do not carry the same weight as a judge’s ruling.
Six of the nine members serving on BREC are appointed at-large by the Metro Council. The Mayor’s Office, School Board and Planning Commission each has a representative on the parks commission.
The Metro Council is expected to decide at its meeting Wednesday whether to put the BREC issue to a vote of the public.
BREC is holding a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the issue of expanding BREC’s membership.
The agenda for the meeting includes consideration of seeking an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.
The council is also considering a similar expansion of membership of the Library Board of Control to designate slots for representatives from Zachary, Baker and Central. That would not require a change in the Plan of Government.