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Metro Council District 12 representative Barbara Freiberg, right, holds up her hands while directing a question toward city-parish Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill and city-parish Dept. of Environmental Services Chief of Operations & Maintenance/Wastewater Adam M. Smith, before the council approved allocation of $1.6 million in funds to pay for a contract for Hurricane Barry debris pickup and disposal, at the meeting, Wednesday, August 14, 2019. At left is District 11 representative Matt Watson.

With Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg headed to the state’s House of Representatives, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will soon accept applications for her successor — a first for the council since January, when it revised its rules for filling vacancies.

The new procedure, championed by Councilwoman Chauna Banks, allows any registered voters residing in the district to apply for the open seat. Individual council members can also nominate candidates. The nominee who receives a majority of votes from the remaining council members will be appointed to the vacancy.

Council members approved the new procedure in January 2019 in part to prevent the kind of controversy that roiled the council following Buddy Amoroso's death the previous year.

Banks, who spent three years advocating for the reform, was among the band of Democrats on the Metro Council who tried to block the appointment of Amoroso's widow, Denise Amoroso, in a failed attempt to get another Democrat in the seat to create an even split on the council. The ordeal resulted in a contentious meeting of back-and-forth insults along the lines of race and party affiliations.

Banks also said the measure was about breaking the council’s tradition of appointing whomever the person vacating the seat chose as their successor, as was the case in 2016 when Councilwomen Ronnie Edwards and C. Denise Marcelle were elected to the state Legislature.

“We wanted to return the seat to the constituents of the district,” Banks said. “I’m not trying to recruit anybody. I believe in fair play.”

Freiberg, who has represented District 12 on the Metro Council since 2016, said she’s fielded calls from at least two individuals who have expressed interest in the position; however, she encouraged anyone who's dedicated to the community to apply.

“I am one of the ones who put this new process in place and I firmly believe that it ought to be open to anybody who is interested in serving this city,” Freiberg said.

Freiberg said she will resign from her post after the Metro Council’s Jan. 8 meeting. That leaves less than a year remaining in her term and means whoever the council selects will serve until the end of 2020. A special election is required only if there is more than a year left in the term.

The city-parish will post an official notice of the vacancy online and begin accepting applications following Freiberg’s resignation. The council will have 20 days to fill the seat.

District 12 includes Southdowns, Kenilworth, Valley Park, Concord Estates and Mayfair, among other neighborhoods. Sixty-nine percent of its 25,000 registered voters are white and 24% are black; 38% are Democrats, 34% are Republicans, and 28% listed other parties or no affiliation. 

Freiberg, a Republican, said she believes the position will go to “the best person that applies,” adding that the candidate’s political party means very little to her. The Metro Council is currently has seven Republicans, all of whom are white, and five Democrats, all of whom are black.

Freiberg said she plans to talk to every candidate who applies and hopes her successor will put the constituents first in taking care of the day-to-day issues of garbage, transportation and drainage.

Banks said she wouldn’t be moved by a recommendation by Freiberg and instead said she will independently look at each candidate's qualifications. Councilwoman Tara Wicker, in contrast, said she thinks the perspective of the outgoing council member is valuable and she’ll take Freiberg's recommendation into consideration when making her decision.

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