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As a lone rose sits in a vase at the late Buddy Amoroso's seat, metro council chambers sit empty, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La.

After a string of missteps and controversies involving appointees to the municipal civil service board, which oversees hiring and discipline for Baton Rouge police and firefighters, all seats are once again filled.

The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday to appoint Brandon Williams as one of three civilian members of the board. The vote came several months after Williams resigned from the board when he realized his residency outside city limits disqualified him from serving.

But a bill passed earlier this year during the 2020 regular session of the Louisiana legislature tweaked that requirement, making Williams eligible after all. The law change specifies that board members can live either within city limits or unincorporated parts of the parish.

In addition to administrative matters involved in the hiring and promotion of Baton Rouge police and firefighters, the board oversees discipline appeals. For example, if a BRPD officer is accused of misconduct and disciplined for violating department policies — that could include being suspended without pay, demoted or even terminated — the officer could appeal that to the board, which would hold an appeal hearing and vote to either uphold or overturn the chief's decision.

The board consists of five members who are appointed for three-year volunteer terms, including one each from the city's police and fire departments. Those agencies vote their representatives into the position, while the other three slots are reserved for members of the public: one appointed by the parish Metro Council and the remaining two nominated by local universities, in this case Southern and LSU.

Williams' resignation left the board without a quorum because another seat was vacant at the time. That meant a temporary pause in hiring and promotions at the Baton Rouge police and fire departments, in addition to a backlog of discipline appeal hearings.

The board's latest vacancy was also unexpected.

The seat became available after Gayle Joseph, who was appointed in January to solve the quorum issue, submitted her own resignation in July because she was also ineligible. Joseph wrote in the resignation letter that she had been elected to serve on the parish's local Democratic Executive Committee before her appointment to the civil service board, and had recently realized that the position made her ineligible under state law. 

Board attorney Floyd Falcon said he has not yet closely reviewed recent board decisions to determine whether Joseph was a deciding vote, in which case the board would have to revisit those votes. But he said it doesn't appear that will be necessary.

Joseph resigned around the same time that Robb Moruzzi, the BRPD representative on the board, was reelected by his colleagues despite criticism from advocates pointing to his controversial past on the department. He was fired in 2010 and later reinstated after fighting a downtown Baton Rouge bar manager, and a federal court ruled in 2016 that he used excessive force during a drug raid.

BRPD officers reelected Moruzzi to the board with almost 70 percent of the vote, though many officers didn't participate in the election, records show. 

Williams was chosen over a second nominee to the board, James Gilmore, who served as a top aide to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and was best known for administering the federal Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination anti-gang initiative, which has been credited with a relatively short lived reduction in the homicide rate. Gilmore resigned from Broome's administration in 2017 amid controversy over the program's abrupt end that came following allegations of mismanagement. 

The board's next meeting will take place Oct. 28. The agenda includes an appeal hearing for former Baton Rouge police officer Marshall McDermitt, who was fired last summer after video footage surfaced showing him repeatedly punching a bloodied man in the face outside a Tigerland bar. McDermitt and his attorneys are asking the board to overturn his termination.

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