For the last 18 months, dedicated leaders from the business, civic, education, and political fields have pored over research, heard from specialists, and engaged in vigorous debate on the issue of how our community should structure its governing document. These volunteers put untold hours and energy into this task, and into the hard work of principled compromise, and ultimately developed a set of proposed amendments to the East Baton Rouge Parish Plan of Government.
The document they ended up with calls for a variety of changes, including a lot of technical modification and cleaning up outdated language. Contextually, the most meaningful changes are to 1) turn the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) role into that of a professional city manager, 2) to create two at-large metro council seats, and 3) to provide the metro council more time to look over the mayor-president’s budget. The document is only a set of recommendations, and the metro council now holds the pen to make changes – be they the recommended set, a modified set, a new set altogether, or nothing at all. But the provided proposal, if implemented, would have significant positive effects on the Capital City, addressing some of our greatest issues.
Professional City Manager
The role of mayor-president is a demanding one by its nature, one person representing the second largest city and the largest parish in the state. It becomes nearly impossible when its responsibilities include not only the big-picture leadership and civic ambassador duties of a CEO, but also the day-to-day administrative details of a manager.
Baton Rouge currently has a CAO position that could ostensibly act in this administrative role, but as currently structured the CAO’s responsibilities by necessity also include policy, community engagement, community relations, communications, and political affairs components. The proposal brought forward is that a new chief of staff position be created to take these elements out of play and leave the CAO free to concentrate on the position’s core mission: the proper day-to-day management of city-parish agencies, with a real focus on efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
At-Large Council Seats
It’s no secret that Baton Rouge has serious problems when it comes to divisiveness within our community. Many larger cities have introduced at-large council members to provide a broader perspective on the community’s problems, benefiting from members of the legislative branch who view the entire community as their constituents rather than a geographic subset. In Baton Rouge, where unfortunately our community divisions have sometimes made negative national headlines, that kind of perspective is especially valuable.
The addition of two at-large seats is a significant one, and in some ways highlights the complications of consolidated government. The specifics of the proposal – which are up to the metro council to adjust at this point – are the result of hard-fought compromise by people on all sides of the issue. As proposed, one at-large council seat would be filled by a citizen who resides within the city of Baton Rouge, and the other would be filled by a citizen residing anywhere in the parish. Whatever the final details look like, it’s imperative that the legislative branch have members that represent a broader and more diverse base of Baton Rouge than our current districts allow.
Budget Timeline Extension
The most straightforward of the three recommendations, this proposal is simply to extend the timeline for metro council review of the budget after proposal by the mayor-president. The timing of the current system allows very little time for in-depth analysis and prioritization of input from the council, meaning the budget is nearly entirely in the hands of the mayor-president and the executive branch. So meaningful is this timing issue that the council has only amended the budget one time in the last 12 years.
Mayor-President Broome has expressed her support of this commonsense reform, which will allow for greater budget transparency both to the metro council and to the public at large. Ultimately, the proposal is simply a series of recommendations by a group of informed and dedicated citizens. The metro council will decide what (if anything) it wants to move forward, and the voters of East Baton Rouge will make the final decision as to what (if anything) is finally adopted. The city-parish constitution is not any one group’s document, this document – like the government itself – can and must represent the entire community.
We have an opportunity in these recommendations to make changes that are long overdue, changes that will provide a more transparent, more efficient, and more representative government. An opportunity like this doesn’t come along very often. Let’s take it.
Anderson serves as BRAC’s Director of Governmental Affairs and Special Projects, responsible for the organization’s governmental relations and advocacy efforts and managing other projects related to economic competitiveness and quality of life.