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Baton Rouge City Hall

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council's appointment of the next parish attorney is shaping up to be a close decision between the two internal candidates vying for the post, according to council members interviewed Tuesday.

The two leading candidates — interim Parish Attorney Andy Dotson and Greg Rome, director of risk management and litigation in the Parish Attorney's Office — received the top scores from the selection committee following interviews last month.

Dotson, who has been leading the office for the past six months following Lea Anne Batson's departure, scored 16 points higher than Rome on a 400-point scale used by the selection committee.

The Metro Council isn't obligated to pick the candidate who received the highest score, setting up another debate Wednesday over an appointment seen as likely to split down party lines.

A majority of the council was in agreement Tuesday about one thing: It’s going to be a difficult decision.

Wednesday marks the third time within five years the position of parish attorney has been up for grabs. The Metro Council fired Mary Roper in 2014 and Batson quit in January after some council members targeted her for removal.

"I think it's going to be a close vote," Councilman Chandler Loupe said Tuesday morning. "I haven't talked to other council members about it but I know everyone is taking a hard look at it. We've got a hard decision to make."

Loupe said he will likely vote for Rome, which Councilwoman Chauna Banks and a few others said they expected.

Banks said it's no secret that Loupe, who is sponsoring the agenda item to hold Wednesday's public hearing on the matter, has been trying to put Rome in the position since he was first elected to the council. He is now serving in his third term on the council.

"We're seeing the same kind of council politics going on," Banks said Tuesday. "There has been a lot of desperation and nastiness behind the scenes, council members trying to interfere. It's going to be very unfortunate for anyone to work for a council who does that type of thing."

Banks said one of the discussions taking place behind the scenes relates to questions of Dotson's residency. She said some have voiced concerns about whether Dotson's wife and family live in Texas.

But Banks said she supports Dotson and doesn't believe that should disqualify him from being appointed as parish attorney. Dotson also received a thumbs-up from Councilwoman Tara Wicker.

"If someone works in Baton Rouge and goes home on the weekends to visit their family in another state, that's not our business," Wicker said. "Until we have a residency requirement, it's unfair to apply that aspect. It's not even a requirement for the job that he lives in the parish."

Councilman LaMont Cole sat in on some of the interviews last month but would only say he thinks Dotson is going a fine job as interim parish attorney.

"I respect the two internal candidates so it will be a game-time decision," Cole said.

Council Pro-Tem Scott Wilson said he hasn't made up his mind yet out of the top two candidates. But he feels neither they nor the three other prospects interviewed for the position have the experience Batson had to properly lead the office.

"It's no disrespect to the candidates; they're all good people," Wilson said. "But I'm looking for someone with experience that we can trust. We had a parish attorney that was qualified."

Batson quit on the eve of a public hearing at which the Metro Council was going to consider firing her too, at the urging of Cole.

Cole has never publicly stated why he wanted Batson removed.

But Loupe previously said employees in the Parish Attorney's Office had approached several council members over the course of Batson's four-year tenure in the top spot with allegations that she was verbally abusive to them.

Councilman Trae Welch said he's also undecided ahead of Wednesday's meeting.

"I’m looking for someone who can work well with others, have good temperament and can work through a problem," he said. "It's important the person in that position will have to have ability to lead (and) get their team excited about working there and doing the work they do."

Councilman Dwight Hudson said he knows who he’s voting for but wasn’t ready to disclose his pick on Tuesday. Hudson, who also sat in on interviews, said he wants a person who can articulate clearly how they will run the office with a higher standard of quality going forward and with a clear vision on grooming future leadership within the department.

Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg said she plans to spend Tuesday night re-watching Dotson’s and Rome’s taped interviews and reviewing their resumes.

“They both bring strengths to the table,” she said. “It’s going to be a very difficult decision.”

Councilmen Matt Watson, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green and Denise Amoroso did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

Dotson has served as the chief city prosecutor for the past 10 years and previously served in various positions within the City Prosecutor's Office since 2009.

He received a score of 377 out of 400 points from the selection committee.

Each of the five candidates interviewed were graded on their interview, professional demeanor, oral communication, and personality and suitability. The committee was comprised of representatives from the Metro Council and the LSU and Southern University law schools.

Rome noted that he has more than 20 years of experience as an attorney. His previous job experience included running his own private law firm, at which Loupe served as a partner at one time, and a six-year stint in the Public Defender's Office for the 19th Judicial District.

He received an interview score of 361 from the selection committee.

"I just think he has more civil litigation experience in that office," Loupe said of his support for Rome. "We're getting sued four to five times a week, and we have some large pending civil litigation against us right now. Greg can handle that and will be good at organizing a team to defend us."

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com