BAKER — The Baker council chambers were full and people stood outside in the hallway as the City Council and mayor battled Tuesday over raising the police chief’s pay and naming city property for a civil rights icon and a deceased former mayor.
So many audience members came forward to speak that, just before 8 p.m., Mayor Harold Rideau half-jokingly proposed extending the meeting an extra four hours.
The council voted 4-1 for an ordinance to set incoming Police Chief Carl Dunn’s annual salary at $85,000, plus benefits, and 3-2 to introduce an ordinance to set the incoming mayor’s salary at $89,000.
Voters elected Carl Dunn as the new police chief in the city of Baker on Saturday, while als…
Council member Pete Heine, who voted against both salary increases, said he did so because raising the salary of an elected official currently in office is a violation of state law.
Rideau, who makes $77,000 per year as mayor, said he has asked the state attorney general for an opinion but has not heard back yet.
Council member Joyce Burges also voted against the pay ordinance for the mayor, without providing a reason.
Many audience members spoke in support of the salary increase for the police chief, with some noting that Dunn has 32 years of law enforcement experience.
“The worst that happens is we get the attorney general’s opinion and we have to change it back. Give the man his due,” said Admon McCastle, who lost his bid to unseat Baker City Council member Charles Vincent in the March election.
Outgoing Police Chief Mike Knaps, a 35-year department veteran who has been chief for 10 years, receives $83,000 a year plus benefits, putting him on step 24 of the Baker Police Department pay scale. The pay scale, which was put in place in 2001 and amended in 2007, covers all members of the Police Department, including the chief.
The police chief position probably shouldn’t be included in the scale because it is an elected position, but the original city charter was drafted in the understanding the police chief would be appointed and was never changed, Heine said.
If Dunn began his tenure as Baker police chief at step one, he would receive $62,000 a year, including the expenses and supplemental pay.
Had Darryl Rainwater been elected, despite his many years of service in Baker, he would have started at the same pay rate, Knaps clarified.
Dunn defeated Rainwater in the March election.
Many residents also spoke on the issue of renaming Baker City Park, and most were in favor of the change.
The council voted 4-1 to rename City Park as Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. Heine, who cast the lone dissenting vote, proposed a substitute motion to name it Veterans Memorial Park, but the motion died for lack of a second.
“I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but a number of people worked on that park. If we’re going to change the name, we should name it after one of them,” Heine said.
“In 1963, I couldn’t vote, go to McDonald’s, go to the park or buy groceries in the store without being harassed,” former Baker Mayor Leroy Davis said. King changed the lives of all Americans, Davis contended.
The council also split exactly the same way on the issue of renaming Baker Municipal Building after the late Mike Cross, who served as mayor from 1976-81 and later became a state senator. He died in 2013.
“There are six men’s names on the cornerstone of this building. You should consider naming it after one of them. Mike Cross was a good man, but he was at Baker High or at ULL when this building was built,” Heine said.
The incoming officials — Mayor Darnell Waites, Police Chief Dunn and council members Doris Alexander, Brenda Jackson and Glenda Byrant — will begin their terms July 1.
At the end of the meeting, during his exit speech, Rideau said the city could have accomplished a lot if not for council member Burges. “You fought me every step of the way. You have been more of a hindrance than a help.”
Burges, who was defeated in her bid for mayor, responded that her record of accomplishments speaks for itself.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said council member Joyce Burges was defeated in her re-election bid. In fact, she was defeated in her bid for mayor. She did not seek re-election to the council.
The story also incorrectly said the council voted 4-2 to increase the mayor’s salary. In fact, the vote was 3-2 and it was just to introduce the ordinance on the mayor’s salary.
The Advocate regrets the errors.