The Metro Council is taking two additional weeks to decide whether to form a commission that would tackle the possibility of renaming streets with ties to the Confederacy or historical figures with divisive viewpoints and actions.
Councilwoman Erika Green, with unanimous support from council colleagues, decided to table her proposal after a 45-minute discussion Wednesday.
That conversation was mostly peppered with commentary from council members who didn't want to see any streets renamed in East Baton Rouge Parish without the support of the citizens and businesses on the roadways in question.
"If there is an effort to change a street name, it ought to be about changing the hearts and minds of the people living on the streets to get it done," said Councilman Dwight Hudson, who is White and who represents the Shenandoah Subdivision where some streets honor the Confederacy.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council may create its own commission to change street names that honor Confederate soldiers and anyone else…
"But I do think this is a discussion that's going to continue in the community regardless of what we do," he added. "While I'm not excited about the idea, if the conversation is going to be happening, we are the appropriate authority to steward that conversation."
Councilwoman Laura Adams, who is also White, presented a petition from a constituent asking to defer the item at least a year, given the current climate of racial tensions around the nation. Adams said the petition also called for preserving history and opting for a "holistic" look that would lean heavily on public input.
Green's resolution, which is set to come back for a vote in May, would create an eight-member committee. That committee would comprise two metro councilors, two members from Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's Commission on Racial Equity and Inclusion, the director of the city-parish Planning Commission and representatives from the local faith-based community, as well as businesses and nonprofits.
Hudson on Wednesday expressed interest in serving on the committee alongside Green.
Under Green's proposal, the commission would spend a year taking inventory of controversial street names throughout the city-parish, recommending new titles for no more than five roads. Included on the list of streets that should be rechristened would be recommended replacement names and explanations for why those would be a better fit.
The committee would be strictly volunteer and advisory, meet monthly and report to the Metro Council at least every 90 days.
Green's resolution comes two months after Mayor-President Broome's Racial Equity and Inclusion Commission released a report on racial inequities in the parish. The study prompted criticism from many city-parish leaders for what some called a "softball approach" to addressing racist symbols and street names tied to Confederacy.
Broome's commission argued that its stance was rooted in opposition likely to arise with abrupt changes, as well as red tape associated with the process.
In New Orleans, the planning commission and City Council can band together to rename streets. Baton Rouge has many more steps, including the a…
Green's resolution presents honorary designations as an alternative to actual name changes, a proposal that would negate the need for public hearings and associated taxpayer costs.
Honorary designations essentially allows the city-parish to install special signage without altering the actual addresses on designated streets.
But Councilman Cleve Dunn, Jr., who is Black, made it clear Wednesday he wouldn't support such a compromise.
"I would like to remove Lee Drive and some others," he said.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks, another Black council representative, voiced opposition to renaming streets, saying it's something that should only be done if residents on a particular avenue want it.
"That's kind of going overboard," she said about the renaming effort. "I feel, if they choose to live on that street, they obviously like the name. I don't want to cause division within subdivisions."
Several council members said they worried creating the renaming commission would give the public the impression that the Metro Council would start arbitrarily rechristening certain streets. Some said were also worried it would result in the council trying to change the city-parish's Unified Development Code. The code requires a person or group to first apply for a name change through the Planning Commission, then get support from most property owners on the street before going through public hearings and a vote by the Metro Council.
Green explained that although the council has the authority to amend that process, that's not what the commission is trying to do. The commission, she said, would simply be spearheading the conversation and making recommendations for the council to consider.
Over the next two weeks, Green promised to clear up some of the legal jargon council members expressed concerns about and continue discussions about expanding the commission's makeup, possibly giving each council member the opportunity to make an appointment.
"We have a role as a council to do the work," she said. "This work may be uncomfortable at times, but the community is asking for things like this to move forward."