A bit of overt political campaigning crept into the latest East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council meeting during the discussions of a smoking ban and the creation of a tax abatement district.
Antoine Pierce took the podium to speak in favor of the proposal to ban smoking in bars and casinos, which ultimately failed in a split vote. He urged the council to consider the matter at hand, not how it may affect their future job prospects.
“I know that several of you have higher political aspirations,” he remarked.
Chairman Chandler Loupe shook his head and asked Pierce about his own aspirations. Pierce noted that in the fall election, he hopes to unseat District 8 Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who voted against the smoking ban.
District 7 council candidate Tyronn Thomas, meanwhile, aimed some critical remarks toward the Metro Council for multiple delays in creating a north Baton Rouge tax abatement district.
“We’ve been here for five months going back and forth. … We still can’t get anything done,” he said.
Thomas contended that no one is investing in north Baton Rouge and pointed out that the proposed smoking ban got six co-sponsors — including the north Baton Rouge delegation — although the tax district had only one sponsor. The lone sponsor, John Delgado, is a councilman in the southern part of the parish and a candidate for mayor.
The district eventually passed without opposition, but the council did require it be reviewed in five years for renewal.
One major concern was the large size of the district, which encompasses everything north of Florida Boulevard within the city limits except airport land and the Downtown Development District. Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel wondered if the city should hold off on the project until it can be overseen by the next mayor.
“Well, it is,” Delgado quipped.
Buffalo in Terrebonne? It could happen
Home, home on the range of Terrebonne Parish where the buffalo roam. That’s right, buffalo.
In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted Louisiana $48 million for the relocation of residents of the south Terrebonne Parish community of Isle de Jean Charles. Coastal land loss in southern Terrebonne Parish has made this community extremely vulnerable to storms and flooding.
A preliminary plan for what a new community would look like for the residents and other members of the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe includes a reference to the possibility of several buffalo to be located on part of the new property.
“The buffalo were the one thing I asked for,” said Albert Naquin, chief of the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, with a laugh.
It is an old nickname for residents of the island, he explained. The story goes that the owner of a long-gone store in south Terrebonne Parish would see large men from the island come in for goods and, referring to their size, say, “You island men are buffaloes.”
Whether buffalo will roam a portion of Terrebonne Parish at some point in the future has yet to be determined. But it remains part of this coastal community’s lore.
Amoroso trying to clear up tricky ethics opinion
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso is trying to clear an old opinion from the state’s Board of Ethics advising him it was problematic to be a councilman while running his company, Prime Properties.
Amoroso recently submitted an application for a declaratory opinion to the Louisiana Board of Ethics on the issue. Declaratory opinions work somewhat like court trials, where the Board of Ethics can present evidence, testimony and arguments.
Amoroso sought an opinion from the board in 2002 — long before he ever ran for the Metro Council — on whether his ownership of Prime Properties disqualified him from being a councilman. The Ethics Board concluded back then that the relationship between Amoroso’s company and the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority raised red flags.
The Metro Council appoints the Housing Authority’s membership, but it has no budgetary control over the agency.
Amoroso said he’s had no personal relationship with the Housing Authority since the 1990s, when he helped the agency with training. He said his company crosses paths with the Housing Authority only in the rare event that someone renting from Prime Properties has a Section 8, low-income housing certificate.
“I just assumed that the law had changed and it wasn’t a big deal,” Amoroso said.
He said he decided to seek the updated opinion after a December article in The Advocate pointed out that the old ethics opinion had not been cleared.
More recent ethics opinions about public officials in similar situations to Amoroso have sided with the public officials. A 2012 opinion said it was OK for a Kenner councilwoman to own Section 8 property because the Kenner City Council did not supervise the housing authority.
In another case, a 2015 ethics opinion concluded that a Jonesboro town alderman could provide paid services for the housing authority while serving as alderman because the housing authority was a separate entity from the town.
Amoroso is expected to have a hearing on the declaratory opinion in June.
Advocate staff writers Steve Hardy, Amy Wold and Andrea Gallo contributed to this article.