There is, apparently, no official motto of city-parish government, nor of the Metro Council. But in the newly refurbished council chambers on the third floor of the neo-Stalinist building on St. Louis Street, a motto might be inscribed over the doors: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”
Though a final vote of 7-2 allowed an important and positive city initiative to go forward, the process involved an hourlong ritual of ill-informed criticism and questioning based on conspiracy theories. It is all too typical of how the Metro Council operates.
The issue was the approval of a resolution to authorize Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome to enter into a 10-year contract with a nonprofit to establish a Bridge Center, a psychiatric crisis and detox facility in East Baton Rouge Parish. The Bridge Center was extensively discussed before a late 2016 tax election in which it narrowly failed in some political headwinds in the last days of Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration.
Then, it was elaborately discussed when a revised tax proposal was passed overwhelmingly in December.
A handful of critics said they would not support the plan unless there is more documentation of how the Bridge Center will spend its some $6 million a year. And a nonprofit board isn’t qualified, some said.
"You guys have done a poor job of convincing the community the Bridge Center is the ambassador to carry this," Gary Chambers, publisher of The Rouge Collection, said at one point. "We want to see a hardcore, concrete plan. And make it as plain as ABC-123 so people can get on board."
The board is not qualified, although it is headed by Kathy Kliebert, a former head of the state health department?
That makes the objections crystal clear: Nothing will persuade the nattering nabobs of negativism on Wednesdays on St. Louis Street.
This is a project vetted by endless discussions, two tax elections, endorsements by highly respected law enforcement professionals like the sheriff and the district attorney, private-sector support intellectually and financially, experts local and national — and it’s not enough?
One of the critics is Councilwoman Chauna Banks, a Democrat. "Overwhelmingly, people supported the tax but they don’t want it to go to the Bridge Center," Banks said. "How can y’all ignore that?"
Easily. How does she prove this? She was absent for the vote; two Republican members, Scott Wilson and Chandler Loupe, were the votes against the project going forward.
"We politicize everything on this council,” rejoined another Republican, Dwight Hudson. “When we start politicizing mental illness, that’s a whole new low." He's right.
Part of this involves prejudice against the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, whose donors underwrote the expensive studies and development process for the Bridge Center. At another recent flogging session of the Metro Council, Banks also targeted the charitable givers who spend large sums on good works in her own north Baton Rouge district. "We never learn from these types of things," Banks said. "We have to start thinking about what our constituents want and not let these nonprofits like BRAF run our city."
Most cities would be grateful to have an engaged and leadership-oriented community foundation like BRAF. But with Banks and some of her GOP brethren, no good deed that BRAF brings before the council is going to go unpunished.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.