Mayor-President Kip Holden has given new meaning to the word “stubborn” in his protracted fight with state administrators over control of federal Homeland Security grants. At issue are rules the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness imposed on Louisiana parishes for federal grants that the agency receives and distributes to the parishes.
Certain grants reserve a 25 percent share for law enforcement purposes, and GOHSEP requires the sheriff of each parish review and sign the applications for those grants.
Holden is adamant the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness lacks the legal authority to impose such a requirement. He argues it effectively gives the sheriff veto power over how homeland security grant money is spent. Although the presidents of other Louisiana parishes managed to work within those rules, Holden dug in his heels.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux’s repeated entreaties, dating back to a June 23, 2010, letter to JoAnne Moreau, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, fell on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the city-parish continued to make purchases — $1.2 million as of mid-April — for which it expects to be reimbursed from grant funds. The state office wouldn’t release the money because of the mayor’s refusal to follow the state agency’s rules.
Holden stood firm despite an unanimous vote of the Metro Council urging him to provide the grant materials to Gautreaux for his review and signature.
The mayor still wouldn’t budge after a prominent Baton Rouge businessman brokered a meeting between Holden and Gautreaux in an attempt to break the impasse.
This week, the standoff was partially resolved after GOHSEP took control over administering two of the grants involved for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, totaling $1.25 million.
Holden protested the process but submitted a spending plan for the city-parish’s 75 percent share of the money.
Gautreaux submitted a separate spending plan for the 25 percent share on behalf of parish law enforcement agencies.
State officials say they will use the same process for two other homeland security grants if Holden continues to refuse to let the sheriff review and sign off on those grants, which total $2.9 million.
As a matter of law, Holden could be correct in his contention that GOHSEP’s rules aren’t valid, but that would require a ruling from the courts to determine.
In the meantime, it’s difficult to see what the mayor has gained by carrying out the fight as long as he has, rather than sitting down to work things out with the sheriff.
Was the fight really necessary?
Lashing out at Gautreaux and GOHSEP Director Mark Cooper, accusing them of “playing politics at its worst,” might have made Holden feel better but it would hardly seem to be in his political interests.
The mayor seems to take policy disagreements personally.
The most recent example occurred when District Attorney Hillar Moore III went public with complaints about inadequate funding of his office and his plan to possibly go to voters separately this fall for approval of a dedicated tax to fund his office.
In a statement to WAFB-TV, Holden blasted the district attorney, saying: “With all due respect, Hillar Moore needs to read the law as to what the city-parish obligation is to his office and the court.”
Moore’s letter was a simple statement of the facts as he sees them about how the lack of funding for his office affects the operations of his office and how he plans to address the situation.
It wasn’t personal, even though the mayor seemed to take it that way.
Greg Garland, a general assignment and special projects reporter for The Advocate, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.