|Voter's Guide, 2020 Fall Elections, Baton Rouge
|Councilman Metro District 12
|community advocate; former college writing instructor
|Present Employer / position
|Length of residence in Jurisdiction
|List of educational institutions and degrees
|• MFA Creative Writing, Fiction, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, May 1998
• BA in English, English Literature, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, Dec. 1992
|Prior elected and appointed positions
|Civic involvement and affiliations
|• One Community One School District, Executive Board Member, 2012-March 2018
A non-profit organization comprised of parents and other concerned community members dedicated to maintaining a unified school district for the purpose of fulfilling a community’s responsibility to provide a free and appropriate education for all children regardless of race and socioeconomic background.
• Dialogue on Race Action Committee, Member, 2015-2018
The Dialogue on Race Louisiana (DORLA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to dismantling institutional racism through education, transformation, and action. The action committee considers and promotes approved civic projects that reflect the mission of DORLA.
• Beyond Bricks EBR, Founding Member, 2014-2016
A volunteer-driven effort to engage education stakeholders on questions of public school policies and initiatives. Beyond Bricks hosted 14 facilitated community conversations across East Baton Rouge parish to gather feedback from community members on their vision for public schools. Results were disseminated in its 2015 report.
• Residents Against the Breakaway/Better Together, Spokesperson, Dec. 2013-April 2014
An organization comprised of concerned community members opposed to the effort to create a new city in the unincorporated area of East Baton Rouge parish.
• Southside Civic Association, Board Member, 2012-2016
A civic association representing approximately 1800 households on the south side of Perkins Road and dedicated to protecting the character and quality of life of the Southside area.
Questions specific to the position
| 1. Should local taxing bodies have input on the ITEP program? Why or why not?
|Yes, local taxing bodies should have input on ITEP applications. They should have more than just input. They should decide whether an application is accepted or rejected, because such decisions should be made by officials elected by the voters who will be affected by that decision. That’s how democracy—a democratic republic—is supposed to work. If the voters disagree with the decisions made by their elected officials on ITEP applications, then they can vote those representatives out of office.
To deny a local taxing body’s ability to make decisions about the fate of local tax revenue is undemocratic and contrary to the principles upon which our country was founded.
| 2. How should law-enforcement agencies be held accountable to the city and its residents?
|It is important that a law enforcement agency be accountable to the citizens it is charged with protecting. In order for an agency to be accountable, its leader must be accountable to the public. This establishes the social compact necessary for a healthy relationship. The community must accept the authority of the leader, and to accept that authority, they must have the ability to reject that authority—to compel a change in leadership if their faith in an authority is lost.
In most cities in East Baton Rouge Parish, this mutual respect—the social compact—is established by allowing citizens to elect the police chief. In the cities of Zachary, Central, and Baker, the police chiefs are elected. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff is elected by voters parish-wide.
In contrast, the Baton Rouge Police Department police chief is appointed. If he (or she) were appointed by a governing body composed of members elected only by city residents, then city residents could still to some degree hold him accountable. Unfortunately, since the early ‘80s, the police chief has been appointed by the Metro Council, which is composed of members elected parish-wide not just city-wide. This is one of the fundamental problems created by the changes made in the ‘80s to the Plan of Government.
Prior to 1982, the city-parish government was governed by two separate but overlapping councils: a city council and a parish council. The city council was elected by city residents. The parish council consisted of the city council members and additional members elected by voters in the unincorporated area. And the police chief in Baton Rouge was appointed by the city council. The decision was made by representatives elected only by city residents.
But in the early ‘80s, the city council of Baton Rouge was merged with the parish council of East Baton Rouge Parish (notably around the same time that the Baton Rouge Police Department was placed under a federal consent decree). This shift in governance eroded the city residents’ ability to hold their police chief accountable. No longer was he appointed by a city council which solely represented city residents. Instead, the police chief was appointed by the Metro Council, whose composition over the years increasingly gave more weight to voters outside the city limits. And since the Metro Council also controlled the Police Department’s budget, city residents were no longer able to exercise appropriate influence on the governance of the BRPD.
In order for city residents to hold the leader of their law enforcement agency accountable—for the social compact to be restored, this oversight must be re-established. The BRPD Police Chief must be either elected by city residents, or at the very least, appointed by only those members of the Metro Council who represent city residents. And the budget of the BRPD must also be administered only by those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or by the police chief. (Currently the majority of the BRPD budget is funded through the General Fund, which is subject to the approval of the entire Metro Council. In order to restore the social compact, the BRPD should primarily be funded by a city tax approved and paid by voters who live within Baton Rouge city limits. And the decision to place that tax on a ballot should not rest with the entire Metro Council. It should rest with only those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or possibly with the duly elected police chief.)
Any effort to merge the Baton Rouge Police Department with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office should be vehemently opposed. Residents in the City of Baton Rouge deserve the same right as residents in the other municipalities in East Baton Rouge Parish to have their own dedicated law enforcement agency. Merging the BRPD with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office deprives them of this right and subjects them to the authority of a law enforcement agency over which they cannot exercise sufficient oversight. It erodes the social compact essential to a healthy relationship. It undermines Baton Rouge city residents’ right to self-governance.
And further complicating the proposal to merge these law enforcement agencies is the issue of the proposed City of St. George, whose leaders declared their intention of relying solely on the EBRSO for its own police force. Expecting Baton Rouge City residents to underwrite the cost for the proposed city’s police protection is yet another example of how incorporating the City of St. George would cause the City of Baton Rouge economic harm.
| 3. How do you plan to address the discrepancies of public investment around the city, including economic investment, access to primary health care in north Baton Rouge, and issues of blight?
|DISCREPANCIES OF PUBLIC INVESTMENT
In order to address the discrepancies of public investment around the city, we must address the underlying policies that allowed for that disparity in public investment, and our fight must begin with the issue of the proposed City of St. George.
The fate of St. George is not assured, but regardless of the outcome—whether or not it is approved by the courts—we must contend with the issues the proposed city exposed, and if created, the issues it will exacerbate. And we must do everything in our power to ensure that if the new city is incorporated, then the negotiated settlement between it and the City-Parish is equitable and just.
St. George residents did not build the original infrastructure that allowed for the population growth in that area. The City-Parish did. And it’s important to know the history behind the City-Parish’s decision to invest in that infrastructure.
Originally city revenue could only be spent developing infrastructure within city limits. But in the late ‘80s, there was an amendment to the Plan of Government, and in the early ‘90s, the Metro Council adopted the Horizon Plan. In conjunction, these two policies allowed city revenue to be spent in the unincorporated area without requiring the area to be annexed into the city limits. At the time, the unincorporated area now known as St. George was undeveloped and sparsely populated. But the investment of city revenue spurred the growth of the major retail hubs and population growth followed.
St. George organizers are now proposing to walk away with the infrastructure without compensating the City-Parish for it. Let’s be clear: The proposal to incorporate a new city was only made possible by the disparity in economic investment created by changes to the Plan of Government in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and if the new city is allowed to incorporate, it will exacerbate that disparity in economic investment. If we want to address that disparity, we must address the issue of St. George.
The plaintiffs who filed suit against the proposed city’s incorporation were right to do so. Hopefully, the court will rule in their favor. If it does not, then we must fight for a negotiated settlement that mitigates the economic harm it will cause to the people in the rest of the parish and in the City of Baton Rouge. We must demand they pay the fair market value for the infrastructure as well as their fair share of legacy costs and bonded indebtedness. That is the most pressing issue to addressing the disparity in economic investment in the city and parish.
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
In regards to the lack of access to healthcare in North Baton Rouge, the path forward is less clear to me. The best solution is not within the power of the Metro Council much less a single Metro Council member. The best solution would be to have our state public hospital re-opened and for it to have a public clinic.
I think it’s important for people to recognize that most parishes in Louisiana have at least one dedicated state public hospital. East Baton Rouge Parish is one of the few that does not. Its public hospital, which was located in north Baton Rouge, was closed during the Jindal administration and those services are now provided by a private partner located in the southern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish. The privatization of such public services hurts everyone in the parish, but it especially hurts north Baton Rouge and low-income areas by diverting investment in public infrastructure to private entities.
On this issue, I will look for opportunities to provide parish residents with the same public infrastructure afforded most parishes—a public hospital. Failing that, I will scrutinize public-private partnership contracts to ensure they are in the best interest of the public.
Historically, many urban areas have suffered from patterns of disinvestment and gentrification that do not benefit average citizens or genuinely local businesses. If the disparity in economic investment hadn’t existed in the first place, “blight” wouldn’t be an issue. So first we must address the pattern of disinvestment. But secondly, we must strive to ensure proposals to address “blight” serve the public good not solely or primarily private for-profit developers.
| 4. How will you address parish-wide flooding?
|I would prefer to do a great deal more research on this matter before taking a position. I will say in District 12 the development of neighborhoods in areas designated as wetlands is a concern. Requests for new developments in wetland areas and in areas where residents are currently concerned about drainage issues should be subjected to careful review to ensure they do not cause or exacerbate flooding.
| 5. What steps would you take to ensure adequate oversight of agencies with dedicated funding to prevent overspending of taxpayer dollars by those agencies?
|It would be disingenuous of me to offer a definitive response to this question. The question itself raises more questions which I’d need answered before I would be comfortable taking a position. At the very least I hope this response offers some insight into how I approach issues: I gather as much information as possible from a variety of sources in order to inform my understanding of the issue and determine the best course of action.
I certainly don’t presume at this time to know all I need to know on every issue, but I do commit to research issues and to consider positions from a variety of viewpoints.