The race for the District 1 seat on Central’s city council pits an experienced former public servant seeking a return to the council against the seat’s current holder, a relative newcomer hoping to change the body’s culture.
Councilman Tim Lazaroe, a veteran deputy with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and local business owner, is fighting to stay on the council — a role he’s held for barely two months since being appointed in January to fill Aaron Moak’s seat after his election to the East Baton Rouge Metro Council.
During his short time on the council, Lazaroe, a 55-year-old Republican and board member of the Central Chamber of Commerce, said he’s been frustrated with infighting on the council and said he wants to be a councilman that can compromise and find policy solutions.
“I’ve never been part of such a dysfunctional group,” Lazaroe said. “With 28 years in law enforcement, you’re used to hostile crowds and people not getting long and being able to de-escalate it. Somebody has to get in there and say 'Time Out.'"
Lazaroe’s opponent is Wayne Messina, a retired educator and former member of the Central City Council. Messina, a 74-year-old Republican, lost his seat on the council in 2018 when Central residents voted out the city’s mayor and all four incumbents on the council who wanted additional terms in the aftermath of the 2016 floods. Now, he’s running again because of the “unfinished business” of preparing the city for the region’s next major flood.
“We got beat up about the flood, but that’s something that happened and it’s not our fault,” said Messina, who drew only 16 percent of the vote in the 2018 primary for his at-large seat. “I wanted to run to hopefully win and hopefully help some people out.”
Since leaving the council, Messina said he’s remained engaged on the issue of flood prevention in Central, attending meetings about the Comite River Diversion Canal, a 12-mile-long channel to divert water from the Comite River to the Mississippi River to prevent flooding, and occasionally cleaning out culverts clogged with leaves and litter on his own time.
“The most important thing that we have on the agenda right now as far as the city of Central is concerned is drainage and that comite diversion canal,” Messina said.
Lazaroe agreed, adding that he supports Mayor David Barrow’s flood prevention plan for the city but would like to see more outside funding through grants so it is enacted faster.
“We’ve got to recognize that we can’t let (the 2016 flood) happen again,” Lazaroe said. “We’ve got to do whatever we can because if we do, the city is done. I think if it happens again, that’d be the death of our city.”
While the two men are political opponents, they attend the same church and both said they’re friends — just with differences of opinion on city policy.
Lazaroe said it’s time for the city of Central to add some fresh ideas to the debates around its future.
“He’s a good guy but he’s part of that group that got voted out,” Lazaroe said. “I genuinely believe Mr. Wayne (Messina) thought he was making decisions for what the people wanted, but he wasn’t listening to everybody.”
Messina pointed to his experience as a public servant, arguing that he's best equipped to address the problems the city faces.
“I have the experience, and I think that’s very, very important,” Messina said.