BAKER — Discussion of renaming either a park or a street in Baker to honor Martin Luther King Jr. devolved into a shouting match Tuesday .
Continuing a discussion from the council’s last meeting on May 10, council member Joyce Burges made a motion to rename City Park located on Groom Road in Baker as Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial City Park.
At that meeting, the council also explored the idea of renaming part of Groom Road after the civil rights leader, a move that would require signatures from 51 percent of people living on the street as well as the approval of the post office and the parish, Rideau said.
“Didn’t you appoint a committee to study this issue at the last meeting? I was supposed to be on that committee,” council member Pete Heine said.
Burges said the committee, which consists of Burges, Heine and members of the community, had not yet met, but she reiterated her desire to proceed with the motion.
Heine proposed a substitute motion to seek input from the residents of Baker. “I have no problem naming anything after Martin Luther King Jr. I want to make that clear. But you made a big deal when you were elected that you didn’t represent Joyce Burges, you represented the constituents. I suggest that if you want to move forward with this, you hear from the constituents. If we encourage people to call their council members, then we can have a feel for what people want,” Heine said.
Both motions died for lack of a second.
“If you agree to do this, I’ll give you $250 for the plaque (naming the park after Martin Luther King Jr.),” former Baker Mayor Leroy Davis said from the audience. Earlier this year, Davis made another try for mayor but lost in April to city administrator Darnell Waites, who will take office July 1.
Heine, who also has served as mayor of Baker and has been re-elected to the council, said the land was bought under his administration and that many people, including actress Rosie O’Donnell, contributed money and work to the park.
“My agenda has always been to bring people together, to bring this city together. You do things like this and you will divide this city,” Heine said.
The two continued to trade barbs until the current mayor, Harold Rideau, interrupted.
“Mayor Davis, I let you speak in council meetings as a courtesy, but no more. You may speak on non-agenda items during meetings, but otherwise, you are out of order,” Rideau said, banging his gavel.
Davis left the meeting soon after.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Tax Management Associates Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina, to identify Baker properties with undeserved personal tax exemptions being claimed on them, such as homestead exemptions. In exchange for the service, TMA will receive 40 percent of any tax, penalties and interest collected as a result of the audit.