Four Metro Council members reacted angrily Monday to a proposal by two of their colleagues, Chandler Loupe and John Delgado, to transfer funds designated for the parish’s five community centers to accounts controlled by Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration.
Tara Wicker, Ronnie Edwards, C. Denise Marcelle and Chauna Banks-Daniel decried the proposal — which will come before the Metro Council on Wednesday — as divisive, short-sighted and politically motivated.
“It would definitely be a step backward,” Wicker said. “We are in the community. We understand it.”
The Leo S. Butler Community Center lies in Wicker’s district.
Since 2012, the parish’s five community centers have been under the control of the individual Metro Council member in whose district each center lies. Before that, the centers were under the control of the Mayor’s Office.
There are community centers in Wicker’s, Edwards’, Marcelle’s, Banks-Daniel’s and Trae Welch’s districts.
Delgado said the intent of the proposal was to make the centers more effective in delivering services.
“The Mayor’s Office has better resources to manage the centers,” Delgado said. “I don’t know if council members have time required to dedicate to those things.”
Loupe, who serves as the council’s chairman, did not respond to a message left on his cell phone or to an email seeking comment.
Welch said he plans to vote for the proposal. He said he doesn’t have time to oversee his center properly and that he believes the Mayor’s Office could do a better job.
Wicker said she had only learned of the proposal Friday.
“Before they put this on the agenda, they didn’t have the respect to come and talk to us about it,” Wicker said. “If anything comes up about the community centers, it should be coming from us that have them.”
Edwards echoed Wicker’s sentiments.
“I am really dismayed that our colleagues did not follow protocol by at least having a conversation with those of us that have community centers in our districts,” Edwards said. “I believe it sets a horrible precedent.”
Edwards said she thought neither Loupe nor Delgado had visited the Delmont Service Center to see how it is run.
“I would never have crossed that line with the two of them,” Dewards said. “I am really disappointed at this point.”
Marcelle said she planned to get in touch with Loupe to discuss the proposal.
“It’s very vague,” she said. “It looks like politics to me.”
Marcelle said moving the centers back under the mayor’s control would hurt the services they provide to citizens. The Martin Luther King Jr. Center is in Marcelle’s district.
“We can work more freely together without them having to get permission from the mayor,” she said, referring to council members and center staffs.
Currently, unclassified employees at the centers serve at the pleasure of the individual council members. If Loupe’s and Delgado’s proposal is approved, any unclassified employees would serve at the mayor’s pleasure.
Early this year, Wicker fired Calvin Beal, who had been the director of the Butler Community Center since 2006.
Marcelle disputed Delgado’s argument that the Mayor’s Office has better resources to manage the centers.
“I have the same staff (at the center) the mayor had,” Marcelle said. “We are audited the same way, we still use the same forms.”
Delgado also said he was dismayed by requests for additional funding for the centers.
“They are having difficulty making do with what they have got and they keep going back to the taxpayers for more money,” Delgado said. “I don’t know that anybody can tell me that the Mayor’s Office isn’t better equipped to handle this.”
Under the proposal, control would switch to the mayor’s office July 1, but Delgado said he would consider waiting until the end of the year. Delgado said he and Loupe did not consult with the mayor’s office before asking for the proposal to be placed on the council’s agenda.
Banks-Daniel, in whose district the Jewel J. Newman Community Center lies, hinted the move could be retaliation for questions the women have been asking about contracts to minority- and disadvantaged-business owners.
“It has been the female African Americans that have been talking about” those types of businesses, she said. “Some have suggested that this is to get our attention off of that and give us something to worry about.”
Community centers could get lost in the city’s bureaucracy, she said.
“We need to lessen the bureaucracy in the mayor’s office, not increase it,” Banks-Danielsaid. “Adding more responsibility to the Mayor’s Office is not right.”