A state Senate panel Thursday scuttled a bill that would expand the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission to include members from Baker, Central and Zachary.
The Local and Municipal Affairs Committee voted 5-1 to defer House Bill 322, sponsored by state Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central.
Mayor-President Kip Holden opposed the measure while the Metro Council endorsed a resolution to put the issue to a parish vote.
Under HB322, BREC would grow to a 12-member panel by increasing the panel’s appointed members from six to nine, with the mayors of Baker, Central and Zachary each selecting a representative.
Today, there is a nine member board, six of whom are appointed by the Metro Council and three ex-officio members who do not have voting rights.
A law change is required because the commission is created in state statute.
Mayor-president pro tem Mike Walker urged the panel to allow voters to decide whether the three cities within the parish should each have a BREC member.
“Please allow us to allow the people to tell us what they want to do. The ones that put us all in office should have the ultimate say,” said Walker.
State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said it is a “fairness issue.” He said people in the growing areas in the northern end of the parish pay taxes to support BREC and do not feel they are getting enough parks and recreation facilities.
“Most people feel slighted,” said state Rep. Bodi White, R-Central. “They would love to have their parks.”
Holden said the current system used to appoint people to the commission works well. The council makes the current six appointments, he said. Today, one commissioner is from Central and another lives in Cheneyville in the northern end of the parish, he said. “It’s already fair,” Holden said.
The change proposed in HB322 could result in a majority of BREC’s voting members coming from the three cities whose population represents a small portion of East Baton Rouge’s 400,000-plus residents, Holden said.
“The commission members represent the entire community rather than just a special sport or area of the parish,” said Rip Wilkinson, the past president of the Greater Baton Rouge Civic Association and former BREC commissioner.
Richardson said there have been issues with BREC because of its failure to bring opportunities to Baker, Central and Zachary. “BREC is doing better,” he said.