Baton Rouge's municipal civil service board, which oversees hiring and promotions for city police and firefighters and which reviews discipline cases, has been temporarily rendered powerless to conduct routine business because it can't reach a quorum.
The board announced in a press release earlier this week that it's waiting on local officials to solve the problem that arose last month when board members realized their newest member doesn't live within city limits, which is required under state law.
"This was absolutely an oversight," Board Chair Robb Morruzi said. "I think somebody did drop the ball."
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.
The Metro Council appointee resigned in September for health reasons and hasn't been replaced. That was around the same time Brandon O. Williams joined the board as the new LSU appointee, replacing former Board Chair Julie Cherry. Williams attended three meetings before questions arose about his residency.
The board needs at least four members present at each meeting to reach a quorum. So the loss of the Metro Council appointee and disqualification of the LSU appointee make that impossible.
"We are stagnated without the possibility of a quorum," said board attorney Floyd Falcon. "It's becoming a problem."
One of the impacts is a growing backlog of disciplinary appeal hearings, which have already been scheduled several months out. Most of the pending cases involve Baton Rouge police officers challenging the discipline they've received from the chief for violating department policies — usually either termination or a suspension without pay.
When a police officer or firefighter submits an appeal to the civil service board, the board holds an appeal hearing and then votes on whether to uphold or overturn the discipline. Those hearings can't resume until the board has a quorum.
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The Baton Rouge police and fire departments also can't complete their normal hiring and promotional processes because the board holds civil service exams and approves test scores before the agencies can hire new employees or promote existing ones.
Metro Council Administrator Ashley Beck said the council hasn't named a new appointee since the September resignation because the open position must be advertised for 60 days before council members can vote on the appointment. She said that vote has been placed on the agenda for the council's meeting next week.
Morruzi, the BRPD representative on the board, said he plans to then call a special civil service meeting to address the most urgent items "that are holding the chiefs back from promoting and hiring."
The board is also waiting on the parish attorney's office to issue an opinion confirming the residency requirement. Falcon said he plans to review what the law says about whether the board will have to re-approve the decisions that hinged on Williams' vote.
One of those decisions was to uphold a one-day suspension for BRPD Capt. Timothy Browning, who didn't follow the proper chain of command when he had questions about whether orders to patrol businesses for shoplifting were unconstitutional. It's unclear whether Browning can now challenge the board's vote.
Williams joined the board this year after serving on the public safety transition committee for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome when she was elected in 2016. He runs a Baton Rouge construction company but lives outside city limits.
Morruzi said he's glad the mistake was discovered now, before more board decisions were affected.
"If we had kept going, imagine the ramifications," he said. "Luckily we caught this when we did."
Editor's note: This story was updated to include an explanation of why the Metro Council hasn't yet replaced the board member who resigned in September.
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