The city-parish remains without a legal representative for municipal bond measures after the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, following several attempts, failed to reach a consensus on a proposed contract they've already deferred twice previously.
The Butler Snow law firm failed to get the seven votes it needed for a contract to serve as the city-parish's bond counsel after four rounds of votes by the council Wednesday. That means the administration must now go back to the drawing board and come up with another contract proposal for the legal services.
A bond counsel is needed to oversee the legal proceedings and negotiations related to bonds that will be issued for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's nearly $1 billion MovEBR roads improvement project.
The financing for the ambitious project won't happen until the fall, which is why Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said he is not "too concerned" yet.
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But Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wilson said he fears not having a bond counsel will negatively impact the city-parish's bond rating.
"We have business that needs to be done and we need to move on this," Wilson said after three failed votes by the Metro Council on various motions related to the matter. "We have refinancing to do that could cost this city-parish lots of money."
The council's debate on the item felt a little like déjà vu with council members revisiting previous arguments they made when the proposed contract was discussed and voted on several times at its May 8 meeting before it was ultimately deferred to Wednesday's agenda.
The administration was seeking permission to enter into a contract with Butler Snow because Richard Leibowitz, who has served as the city-parish's bond counsel for nearly 30 years, recently left the Baton Rouge firm of Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson to go work at Butler Snow.
That was a point of contention for Democrats on the council who expressed concerns Wednesday about the city-parish awarding an exclusive contract to Butler Snow just because Leibowitz had switched firms.
"I think we're getting in a sticky legal situation," Councilwoman Chauna Banks said.
Banks asked officials from Broome's office and the Parish Attorney's Office to explain why the city-parish had canceled its contract with Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson more than a month ago because she recently learned the law firm was still interested in serving as bond counsel.
Gissel said Leibowitz told the mayor-president his desire to work at a smaller firm prompted his switch to Butler Snow. And interim Parish Attorney Andy Dotson said the old contract with Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson included a clause that allowed the city-parish to cancel the contract with a 30-day notice.
Banks said the city-parish doesn't know why Leibowitz left Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson or what he might have told Butler Snow about his ability to take the city-parish government's business with him.
She said the contract with a law firm is not based on the work of one person but rather "on a firm that says they're qualified to do the work."
Banks threw her support behind a substitute motion from Councilman LaMont Cole who asked the item be deferred until the next council meeting so additional discussions could take place.
That failed in a 5-6-1 vote.
Banks, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green and Tara Wicker backed Cole while Wilson, Matt Watson, Chandler Loupe, Dwight Hudson, Barbara Freiberg and Denise Amoroso voted against Cole's motion. Councilman Trae Welch was absent.
The only thing most of the council agreed on was the exclusivity clause in the proposed contract. Because Leibowitz has served as bond counsel for so long, most agreed that it's time the city-parish issue a request for qualifications to possibly get a new bond counsel.
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Because that process could take as long as six months, Republicans on the council tried to introduce motions that would have moved the contract with Butler Snow forward for a limited period so a request for qualifications could be issued and a new law firm vetted in the meantime.
Motions to that effect by Wilson and Hudson failed.
"I was concerned we have not put this out for public bid in over 20 years (but) I do think Richard is probably the person we need right now to get things going because we have important matters coming up," Freiberg said.
Collins-Lewis also attempted to pass a motion to the defer the item but failed to get enough votes. She said Leibowitz should have at least put in writing for the Metro Council his reason for switching firms.
"It should not depend on one person to do the work," she said. "We have to stop relying on one person to do all the work."