A deal struck between Mayor-President Kip Holden and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker last week that would free up about $1 million for parish bridge repairs is now in limbo.
Holden and Walker stood together Sept. 28 and publicly announced a compromise the two had reached behind the scenes of the Metro Council meeting — if the council approved a disputed stage canopy for downtown’s Galvez Plaza, then the mayor would reallocate money for bridge repairs.
The council voted to approve the $900,000 sculptural stage canopy in an 8-2 vote Tuesday, but some council members made it clear they were voting only on the merits of the project and were not in favor of supporting the deal.
Scott Dyer, an aide to Holden, said in an email Wednesday that the “deal fell apart” after Tuesday’s vote.
“The deal was suggested by council members who offered to support the canopy in exchange for the bridge money. The mayor was willing to go along if that was the only way to get council approval for the canopy project,” Dyer wrote.
“As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary because the deal fell apart apparently due to a lack of support from other council members,” Dyer said.
Walker said he fully expects the mayor to come through with his end of the deal, given that the council approved the $900,000 stage canopy.
“Whatever differences Kip and I have had from time to time, we gave each other our word,” Walker said. “And we know we’ll keep our word.”
But, Walker said, he will be very disappointed if Holden does not deliver.
John Carpenter, chief administrative officer to Holden, said Wednesday that “it’s not a done deal,” but he expects the administration to come through with bridge money in some form.
“I think we’re still looking at sources of funds and transfers to keep the deal alive,” Carpenter said.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison instigated the negotiations by finding money for the bridge repairs.
But, Addison said, he did not support the deal and voted against the stage canopy.
For weeks, Addison has voiced concerns about whether the massive stainless steel stage canopy will be safe because the construction firm was forced to slash its original bid in half in order to conform to the project’s budget.
He said other council members have expressed a desire to kill the canopy project and use the money for bridge repairs after Holden’s administration said in recent months that 78 bridges in the parish needed to be replaced.
But the stage canopy is funded from taxes dedicated to riverfront projects and that money can’t be used for bridge repairs.
Addison said he spent weeks working with parish staff members to find money in the budget that could be used for bridge repairs.
Ultimately, he found a riverfront levee project with a $1.3 million budget that had never been started.
Addison proposed transferring those funds to the North Town Square project because both projects are eligible for the dedicated riverfront funds.
He said moving that money into the Town Square project would free up undedicated parish general fund money that could then be used for bridges.
Addison said he never talked to Holden about the proposal. Instead, he pitched it to Holden’s staff members who told Addison that Holden would likely not agree to it.
But at the Sept. 28 meeting, Holden pulled Walker aside and told Walker he would agree to reallocating the funds if the council approved the canopy project, Walker has said.
The meeting adjourned before a vote could be taken, but Holden said after the meeting that the deal was good for Baton Rouge.
“The public needs to understand that tonight, even though they talk about us bickering, there was a common effort between the pro tem and myself to resolve an issue and move forward, and we did our best to make that happen,” Holden said after the meeting.
Addison said he never told the mayor’s staff that he would vote to support the canopy in exchange for the bridge money because his questions about the safety of the canopy have not been answered.
He also said he sees the bridge funds as a separate issue that should be funded regardless of whether the deal is on the table.
He noted that Holden sharply criticized the council for failing to approve placing on the ballot Holden’s proposed capital improvements tax plan that would have replaced 78 weakening bridges.
“We have been told we’re playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with people’s lives by not passing the bond issue, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to figure out how we can still be able to fix bridges,” Addison said. “Whether it’s tied to the canopy or not is secondary. This is an issue of priorities.”
Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said she’s written two bridge repair proposals for the mayor to choose from — one for $900,000 and one for $1.3 million. The proposals must be approved by the mayor’s office before they can be placed on the agenda for council consideration.
The proposed bridge supplement is a fraction of the $80 million Holden sought in the recent failed tax proposal to replace bridges.