An attempt to change how the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council fills vacancies created by deaths and resignations went down in defeat Wednesday night.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks was one vote shy of the seven she needed to amend a section of the city-parish's home rule charter that deals with filling vacancies on the Metro Council — a topic that caused a rift along racial and party lines earlier this year after the death of councilman Buddy Amoroso.
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"You have to wonder, when we're talking about the dysfunction here and wanting better government, I don't think the vote tonight is evident of us wanting to be better," Banks said after Wednesday's Metro Council meeting.
Banks tried to get the council to adopt amendments that would have allowed qualified voters in the parish to submit applications and be considered for appointments to fill unexpired terms on Metro Council seats in their districts.
Council members LaMont Cole, Donna Collins-Lewis, Barbara Freiberg, Erika Green and Trae Welch backed the Banks proposal. But she needed a seventh vote to succeed.
Those voting in opposition were council members Dwight Hudson, Denise Amoroso, Chandler Loupe, Matt Watson and Scott Wilson. None of them voiced their reasons during the meeting.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker was in the council chambers but did not vote on the measure. Wicker was away from her council desk speaking with the parish attorneys at the time.
Wicker got compared to Judas back in July when she didn't side with her fellow black Democrats on the council (Cole, Green, Banks and Collins-Lewis) in voting against the council's appointment of Denise Amoroso to fill the term of her late husband, councilman Buddy Amoroso.
Wicker called her missed vote an "oversight," not an act of political retaliation.
"I don't do that; that's not in my character," she said after the meeting. "I just missed it."
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Banks' recommendations included allowing the Metro Council to appoint someone within 20 days to serve the remaining time of a vacated seat with one year or less left in the term or until an election could be held if the remaining time is longer than a year.
The proposed amendments would have required notice of a council vacancy to be posted on the city-parish's website asking qualified voters who reside in the same district to submit applications. All applicants meeting the qualifications for the seat would have to be considered for appointment, along with any other person nominated by a member of the Metro Council.
Currently, any council member can nominate any elector who lives in the district. The public gets the right to comment during a hearing before any votes are cast.
Debate over filling vacancies on the Metro Council reached a boiling point when the council's Democrats tried to block the appointment of Denise Amoroso after her husband was killed in a bicycle accident in June in West Feliciana Parish.
Banks and the other black Democrats on the council, excluding Wicker, were trying to get another Democrat appointed to create a even split with the council Republicans, all of whom are white.
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Although it's not written in any law or the plan of government, the Metro Council has traditionally given preference to spouses to fill seats when a council member dies.
Banks on Tuesday called that tradition antiquated, claiming it stems from a time when men were the primary breadwinners and when elected offices were almost all held by men. Ensuring that their spouses served in their positions if they died was a way male council members helped maintain financial security for their households even in death, Banks said.
"Why are we still doing that in this day and time doesn't make sense," Banks said.
Banks said she has wanted the council to do away with the tradition since 2016 when Councilwomen Ronnie Edwards and C. Denise Marcelle were elected as representatives in the state Legislature, leaving open seats that were filled by Cole and Green, who were nominated by both former council members and approved by the Metro Council.
"Everything got so messy," Banks said about the controversy surrounding Denise Amoroso's appointment. "Everyone's comments were, 'Why don't you all come up with something better to do this.' That's what I did, but look what happened."