Here is what city-parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said to members of the Metro Council in 2005, shortly after Holden was inaugurated for his first term as mayor:
“We are a family and we are a team, and Baton Rouge has sent a message out to us, and they’ve laid out a challenge and they are asking for change. That change cannot come about if all of us are pulling in different directions.”
More than six years later, Holden is in his second term, and some faces on the council have changed. Today, the mayor and the council often appear on different teams, and the mayor also has a strained relationship with East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. Lately, Holden and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore have seemed to be on different pages regarding funding for Moore’s office.
The ideal of unity that Holden promised to pursue when he first became mayor is a promise unfulfilled. The breadth of disharmony across city-parish government suggests that Holden must do a better job of working with his fellow public officials. The mayor is a smart man and a gifted politician, and we admire his ambitions for Baton Rouge. We have supported two of his previous tax proposals, acknowledging that the capital improvement needs they were designed to address are vital ones that need public funding. But the mayor’s quick temper and his tendency to regard those who question his policies as enemies have not helped him advance important policy initiatives for this community.
The Metro Council recently voted to delete Holden’s capital improvements tax plan from its agenda. We disagreed with that vote, noting that regardless of how council members regarded the plan, it warranted a public discussion by the council. Removing the mayor’s tax plan from the agenda did not advance that discussion.
But the mayor did not help his case by waiting so long to divulge details of his tax plan, then pressing council members to quickly approve sending it to voters for a fall election. Metro Council members have been asking for details of the tax plan for the past six months, arguing — quite reasonably — that they needed adequate time to study the proposal before placing it on a ballot.
Significantly, it seems that neither Moore nor Gautreaux was consulted when the mayor’s latest tax package was being formulated. Holden said the new package is similar to proposals previously rejected by voters in 2009 and 2008, and Moore and Gautreaux were consulted for those plans.
But the failure of Holden’s two previous tax proposals at the polls underscores the need for more, not less, consultation among agencies in advancing a third tax plan. In failing to bring Gautreaux and Moore on board in planning his new tax initiative, Holden has helped foster a climate of competition rather than collaboration within the halls of city-parish government. Moore is now arguing for a separate tax proposal to help fund the District Attorney’s Office, and Gautreaux has spoken in favor of the Metro Council’s decision to delete Holden’s tax plan from its agenda.
Meanwhile, some council members have met with Moore and Gautreaux to discuss an alternative tax plan.
Gautreaux’s differences with Holden regarding the latest tax proposal follow a prolonged and heated dispute that pitted Holden against Gautreaux and state officials regarding how federal homeland security grants should be administered. Holden’s needless stonewalling on that issue deepened divisions between the mayor and the parish’s top elected law enforcement official at a time when East Baton Rouge Parish’s crime challenges argue for partnership, not petty bickering.
Holden’s great initial appeal as a leader was his promise to unite this community in a common pursuit of greatness. We don’t presume to blame the mayor for all of the disunity now hampering Baton Rouge. But as our leader, he has a special obligation to promote collaboration and compromise.
We call upon Mayor Holden to reconnect with the ideals that led him into office – ideals that still have the power to move Baton Rouge forward.