In case we haven’t learned by now, Kip Holden does not take rejection well.
While his term in office ends in January 2017, as mayor-president he will need Metro Council votes for a couple of years, unless the voters statewide elevate him to lieutenant governor in the fall elections. The latter is hardly a sure thing, but it is a sure thing that Holden’s petulance about the council’s latest decisions is going to make a bad impression outside of city hall.
The mayor said he would no longer push a bond issue for a new jail and other criminal justice facilities after the council voted 8-4 not to put the tax plan on a May ballot.
“Playing games” was among the kinder comments about the council, not all unjustified. But the more that Holden talks about what a crisis the city-parish faces in the old jail and other needs in criminal justice, the more his decision smacks of a kid picking up his marbles and going home.
Nor was Holden impressed by the requests for more details about the plan. “Those are people who obviously don’t understand anything about finances,” Holden told The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen. “I’m not going to go through a vain exercise so they can placate a few people.”
“Stop teasing people and stop playing games,” he added.
When it comes to gamesmanship, Holden has a lot to teach.
The Metro Council was asked to declare the tax plan an emergency because the city-parish cannot call a spring tax election without the emergency declaration. If it’s such an emergency, then why not go ahead with a fall election? Because that doesn’t fit Holden’s calendar, as he will be running for lieutenant governor in October.
An emergency cannot get in the way of one’s personal politics, after all.
And with every consideration of Metro Council members scratching for a way to vote “no” on a tax, whatever its merits, the Holden proposal was light on detail. The city-parish absolutely needs a new jail; no national authority has given an objective judgment on how big a jail needs to be. It’s doubtful that a great deal of study has gone into the 2,500-bed jail proposed in the Holden package.
That’s just one of the loose ends not tied down.
If Holden is showing the dark side of his usual sunny manner, the fact is that Metro Council members haven’t covered themselves in glory on this issue either. The jail has been a crisis, if not a legal emergency, for a long time. The need for a comprehensive plan, not just a diversion center building, for the mentally ill getting in trouble with the law is not exactly new news either.
And Holden was not alone in pushing the bond issue; the sheriff and district attorney are among its boosters. There is the basis for a coalition to get things done.
This setback does not mean that this bond issue is a bad idea, and even council members voting against it this time hesitated to oppose it on the merits. There’s room here for leadership, if the mayor wants to get back in the game.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.