A familiar face was missing from her usual center-aisle seat at the Jefferson Parish Council meeting in Gretna on Wednesday.
Margaret Robinson Baird, a staunch advocate for fiscal responsibility and transparency in government, died at her home March 4. She was 77.
Baird and her twin sister, Margie Robinson Seemann, who died in March 2014, created Citizens for Good Government and spent more than a decade speaking at meetings, making public records requests, criticizing what they considered bad policies and rapping the knuckles of elected officials they felt weren’t acting in the public interest.
“Ms. Baird was the gentle side of the duo,” Councilman Chris Roberts said Friday. “She was always the more soft-spoken one; she would come up and say what she had to say with a smile.”
A certified public accountant, Baird was co-valedictorian with her sister at Metairie High School and graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake summa cum laude with a degree in accounting.
Her passion for politics and the Republican Party began with Barry Goldwater’s failed bid for the presidency in 1964 and continued with her involvement with Republican organizations here and in Texas.
Baird, a New Orleans native, moved back from Texas in 2002 and, along with Seemann, founded Citizens Against New Taxes. They helped defeat a half-cent sales tax proposed for the Jefferson Parish public schools system.
That group became Citizens for Good Government, and Baird and Seemann became regulars at council meetings during the troubled times leading up to the resignation of Parish President Aaron Broussard in early 2010.
The sisters were known for their questions and comments at the microphone, bringing attention to overtime pay, new staff positions, change orders and extensions of professional-services contracts.
“They were another set of eyes, where if someone was considering doing something controversial or that may not be well-received by everyone, they served as a check,” Roberts said.
Chief among the policy changes the sisters championed early on were the creation of an independent Inspector General’s Office and reforms in how the parish awards contracts.
The council’s practice of having the clerk read the amount that every hopeful contractor on the agenda contributed to each council member during the prior election cycle was begun by the sisters before the council decided to adopt the practice itself.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, released a statement calling Baird a dear friend who “fought to achieve real reforms that increased transparency and lowered taxes for families in Jefferson Parish.”
“She and her sister Marjorie Seemann were champions of good-government reforms and worked tirelessly to hold government more accountable to the taxpayers,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.