An East Baton Rouge Parish councilman has launched an effort to oust the head of the Parish Attorney’s Office, but says he can’t go into details about why because it’s a “personnel matter.”
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Councilman LaMont Cole placed an item on the agenda for Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting asking that a public hearing be set to remove Lea Anne Batson as Parish Attorney. She took over the position after the council fired her predecessor, Mary Roper, in September 2014.
Roper’s removal was an acrimonious affair that led to a series of extensive public records requests, lawsuits and appeals that stretched on for months. Batson was officially named Parish Attorney in April 2015.
While Cole wouldn’t comment on the reason for wanting Batson fired, several council members said they’ve heard rumblings about turmoil in the office Batson leads, which provides legal guidance to the mayor-president, the Metro Council, the Baton Rouge city police and other departments.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson said he learned Cole was planning to seek Batson’s removal after her first assistant, Tedrick Knightstead, gave notice that he was resigning effective Jan. 31. Knightstead confirmed on Thursday that he had notified Batson in early December that he was leaving his position as her second in command.
“I’m just ready to do something different after being with the Parish Attorney’s Office for 13 years,” Knightstead said, adding that his decision to leave had nothing to do with Batson.
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In a Dec. 13 email obtained by the Advocate, Batson notified Metro Council members that Knightstead had decided to step down as her first assistant, praising him as someone who had been “an integral and essential” part of her team. She advised council members that Anderson Dotson, who has served as the city prosecutor for the past two years, would replace Knightstead as her second in command.
“I don’t know if they’re connected,” Wilson said Thursday of Knightstead’s decision to resign and Cole’s move to oust Batson. “I haven’t heard of any concerns or issues so I don’t know how all this came about.”
Councilman Dwight Hudson also said he hasn’t had a problem with Batson’s leadership.
“I plan to ask Councilman Cole about the justification of this,” Hudson said.
In an email response to questions about Cole’s effort to remove her from her position, Batson said she didn't have a comment. She said she had not received the email Thursday afternoon and had not seen the agenda yet.
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"I did receive a letter from the Council Administrator last week indicating that LaMont Cole was going to put an item on the agenda but I have not spoken to him," Batson wrote.
Notice about the agenda item went out around noon Thursday to Metro Council members and city-parish department heads.
To move forward, Cole will need a majority of the 12-member council to agree to set a hearing for Jan. 23, where a decision would be made on whether to dismiss Batson as Parish Attorney. The matter could be discussed in executive session, according to a Dec. 26 memo from the council administrator.
Batson has 30 years of experience with the Parish Attorney’s Office. She had served as Roper’s second in command, a working relationship that grew so tumultuous Roper had attempted to fire Batson before she got ousted and Batson was appointed on an interim basis.
Council members Chauna Banks, Erika Green, Barbara Freiberg and Tara Wicker all said Thursday they want more information from Cole on why he thinks Batson’s dismissal is warranted.
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“I don’t have a stance one way or the other,” Freiberg added.
She said she’s talked to one council member other than Cole “who may think this is a good thing” and has also heard from Batson.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said Thursday she had no comment about the matter.
Council members Matt Watson, Chandler Loupe, Trae Welch and Denise Amoroso did not return calls Thursday for comment.
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