If the Metro Council does not want to be taken as a political circus these days, members ought to dial back the wild email charges. The name-calling distracts from a debate over historic preservation in Baton Rouge.
The latest: Metro Councilman Ryan Heck called for the resignations of three members of the Historic Preservation Commission whom he called “clowns” in an email exchange.
Heck accused commissioners of using their office to provide favors to friends and of violating the state’s Open Meetings Law.
The latter we take very seriously indeed. At least one visit the HPC members made to a site included a quorum of members, and we think obviously should have been announced in advance, under the Open Meetings Law.
However, Heck is going beyond that issue with charges, again in the much-circulated rounds of emails with HPC members, that the commission is playing favorites in its duties.
Is there any evidence of that? This is not a commission that makes or breaks property values, the way the Planning Commission does.
Property owners in two districts — Spanish Town and Drehr Place in the Garden District — must seek commission approval before making certain aesthetic changes to their property, including tree removal, renovations and fence installation, that could conflict with the historic look of the area.
Heck has questioned the criteria board members use to base their decisions.
“Mr. Heck accuses us of favoritism. Give us concrete examples. Rather than HPC having vendettas, he seems to have a vendetta or is acting on behalf of someone who does,” commission Chairwoman Carolyn Bennett shot back.
She’s right about the concrete examples, if the vendetta part is a matter of interpretation.
What isn’t in dispute is that a great deal of flak has gone up around the important task that the commission has: For the neighborhoods choosing to be designated as historic areas, some sort of regulation is necessary to preserve the special character of those places. That discussion ought, of course, to occur in public meetings.
Baton Rouge suffered greatly in decades past when historic structures were torn down. The protections against demolitions are thin enough as it is. If the HPC needs guidance from the council, then it ought to come in public session and not flaming emails.