Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million tax and bond issue was killed Wednesday night, without discussion, when the Metro Council unexpectedly declined to even allow the proposal to be introduced on the council’s agenda.
Holden exited the meeting after the 9-3 vote and told the media not to count the bond issue out yet.
“We are not dead,” he said.
Support for Councilman Scott Wilson’s motion to delete the bond issue from the list of introductory items killed the item before the council was able to collectively discuss it with the administration and before a public hearing could be held.
The bond issue was expected to be introduced Wednesday, which is standard council procedure that would have allowed the item to move onto discussion in council committee on Aug. 3.
The item would go to full council on Aug. 10 for the final vote to decide whether to send the massive capital improvements tax to East Baton Rouge Parish voters on Nov. 19.
There is no discussion allowed on introductions of items.
“It’s almost unheard of that you would not let an item go through introduction and that you would delete it, especially an item of this magnitude,” Holden said. “But the bottom line is we’re going to continue to push forward.”
Holden would not divulge his “strategy” as to how he plans to move forward.
Holden said the council’s decision amounts to “playing Russian roulette with the lives and safety of the people of East Baton Rouge Parish,” because the bond issue would have addressed bridges in desperate need of replacement and other public safety needs.
Wilson responded separately that if lives were in danger, “then we wouldn’t have gotten (the proposal) at the last minute.”
“Raising taxes right now is not the way to go,” he said. “Especially, when you’re bringing it to us at the last minute, when you’ve had this bond issue twice, and people have voted against it.”
The Metro Council received the details of Holden’s third attempt at a bond issue on July 7, after asking for details for more than six months.
Alison Gary, formerly Alison Cascio, said a major deciding factor for her was a letter sent earlier this month by District Attorney Hillar Moore III asking to be included in the bond issue.
“When I get a letter from Hillar Moore saying he doesn’t have the resources he needs to make this a safer city, and he’s also telling me that he hadn’t even been consulted; That’s a problem,” she said. “We need our law enforcement leaders to all be at the table.”
The bond issue was to be split into three voting packages: public safety, infrastructure and economic development.
The public safety portion, similar to the past bond issues which failed, had plans for a new Parish Prison, juvenile detention center and public safety headquarters.
Neither Moore, nor Sheriff Sid Gautreaux were consulted for this bond issue. Holden said that was because the proposed bond issue mirrored past ones, in which their offices were included.
All 12 council members attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Council members Wilson, Gary, Trae Welch, Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Chandler Loupe, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, Mike Walker, and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois voted to delete the proposal.
Council members Tara Wicker, C. Denise Marcelle and Joel Boé voted to support introducing the bond issue.
Wicker, who has expressed her support for the bond issue, said she was disappointed by the vote.
She said she thinks her fellow council members were trying to send a message to the mayor.
“The message is that those council members feel that the lack of communication hinders their ability to effectively make decisions and they want to be involved on a higher level,” she said.
But, Wicker said, council members need to put the good of the community before “personality issues” and conflicts.
“At the end of the day, you have to look at what’s best for this community, and in my opinion this bond was important to our city,” she said.
Marcelle said she was surprised by the vote.
“I liked the fact that it was broken up into three parts,” she said. “We should have sent it to the public.”
Boé said he had reservations about the bond issue, but voted against deleting it because he wanted to have a public hearing and an opportunity to get answers to his own questions.
But Boé “won’t lose any sleep over it,” he added.
Holden can put the bond issue on the council’s Aug. 10 agenda, which is the next full council meeting, but he would have to ask the council to waive the rules which require an item to be introduced.
John Carpenter, Holden’s chief administrative officer, said the administration will be exploring its options, but would not offer scenarios that would allow the item to be sent to voters in November.
Aug. 10 is the next and last council meeting before the deadline to send items to the state Bond Commission to be placed on the Nov. 19 ballot.
The three-part bond issue called for three-quarter cent sales tax increase and 2.9-mills of property taxes all together.
Similar to past bond issues, the infrastructure-heavy proposal had plans for drainage repairs; bridge replacements; traffic signal improvements; a downtown parking garage; City Hall renovations, and a River Center renovation and expansion, in addition to the public safety improvements.
Holden said Wilson was acting out of revenge because the administration opposed a bill at the council and a corresponding bill in the Legislature earlier this summer that would have given Central, Baker and Zachary seats on the parish parks system board.
“When we defeated his bill in the Legislature, he threatened people and got in their faces and this is his payback moment here,” Holden said.
Holden is now encouraging constituents who support the bond issue to contact their council members.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “I think the public outcry is going to be enormous.”