Last call is a thing of the past for Baton Rouge casinos, which soon will be able to serve alcohol 24 hours a day.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday voted, 7-4, with one abstention, in favor of creating a special license for casinos that will allow them to sell alcohol past 2 a.m. — unlike other Baton Rouge bars and stores.
The council also took on some other tough topics at their meeting, including a discussion about whether the police chief should be an elected position and a debate about funding for a council member’s community center.
Baton Rouge’s casinos, while open 24 hours a day, are the only ones in the state that shut off alcohol sales at 2 a.m., per local law.
The change won’t go into effect for 12 days unless the mayor-president signs it into law sooner, and then the casinos will have to purchase their $5,000 licenses.
All three of Baton Rouge’s casinos have said they supported the change in the law and would purchase the license to extend their alcohol sales.
Geno Iafrate, executive vice president for regional operations at Pinnacle Entertainment which runs L’auberge casino, told the council the move would simply level the playing field for Baton Rouge casinos competing with other Louisiana and Gulf Coast casinos.
“For me it’s about competing for conventions, it’s about economic development, and it’s about jobs,” said Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who proposed the amendment.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker asked if expanding sales to casinos would “open the flood gates” for other Baton Rouge businesses hoping to extend their hours.
Under the proposal, alcohol can only be sold after 2 a.m. on the floor where gambling takes place, and in bars and restaurants that can be accessed only by those floors.
Councilmembers Wicker, Joel Boe’, Buddy Amoroso, and Chauna Banks-Daniel opposed creating the new license. Ronnie Edwards abstained from the vote.
Trae Welch, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, Ryan Heck, John Delgado and Marcelle supported the measure.
POLICE CHIEF: The Metro Council also debated changing the process of how the Baton Rouge Police chief is selected, and heard from seven members of the public who all supported the idea of having an elected chief.
Charles Bethley told the Metro Council that the Plan of Government, which dictates that the mayor-president appoints the police chief, is outdated — noting that when it was written in 1947, black residents couldn’t vote or run for office in Baton Rouge.
To change the way the chief is selected, the Metro Council would have to vote to put the proposed change on the ballot for voters to decide.
“We are not asking this council to decide between appointing or electing a police chief, or perhaps no police chief at all,” Bethley said. “That decision is too important for the 12 members of this council alone to make the decision. Let the people decide.”
Councilman John Delgado called it a “really terrible idea,” saying that having an elected police chief would only “inject more politics into the situation.”
He added, “We don’t, in this country, elect generals. The president appoints them and Congress confirms them.”
Delgado said he’d support a change in the Plan of Government to give the Metro Council power to veto the mayor’s appointment.
Councilman Scott Wilson said he didn’t support changing to an elected police chief because city police officers are forbidden from running for office and would have to quit their jobs to run.
“We’re eliminating the pool of quality candidates we should be choosing from,” Wilson said.
A few council members called the discussion a “knee-jerk reaction” to Holden’s firing of Chief Dewayne White.
Marcelle, who placed the discussion item on the agenda, said she thought the discussion was warranted. She said she would bring it back in a few months after White had his hearing with the Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Board to contest his termination.
COMMUNITY CENTER: The Metro Council meeting also generated tension as 11 members of the council refused to allow Marcelle to redirect $51,000 of self-generated revenue from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to provide additional services within the center.
Community centers, which typically serve the low-income parts of the parish with services, are under the control of the Metro Council members whose district they’re in.
Marcelle reacted angrily after her motion to approve the funds died for lack of a second and a separate motion to defer the item for two weeks also died for lack of a second. She accused the council of “micromanaging” her community center, and outside of the meeting questioned whether she was being retaliated against by her colleagues.
However, she said, she didn’t know why they were retaliating against her.
“It’s disheartening. I don’t know where this is coming from,” she said to the council. “I’m wondering what you think the funds are for, and what you would like me to do with them?”
Some council members responded that Marcelle did not answer questions they posed about the funds.
Since the self-generated revenue is above what was approved in the city-parish’s 2013 budget, its uses have to be approved by the Metro Council.
Marcelle said the funds would have paid for back-to-school supplies, prom dress give-aways and meals for low-income residents. It also would have provided a contract for Cleve Dunn, a local consultant, who she said would have served as a liaison between her and the community.