Mayor-President Kip Holden and his political opponent for the past year Councilman Mike Walker buried the hatchet Tuesday night, ending a year of public feuding during a sometimes-ugly mayoral campaign this year.
The reconciliation was the highlight of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council’s annual meeting to approve the city-parish’s budget for the coming year.
In recent years, the annual budget meetings have been several hours long and filled with debate and council scrutiny over the mayor’s fiscal priorities. But this year the council approved the $780.5 million budget unanimously, without debate and in less than 10 minutes.
After the budget was approved, Holden thanked the council, and offered a special appreciation for Walker, who has served as mayor pro tem for the past four years. Walker served three terms on the Metro Council and was not eligible to run for another term as a council member.
“Let me bid my friend Mike Walker the best in your future for you and your family,” Holden said. “I appreciate the years of service you’ve offered and all the sacrifices you have made.”
Walker told Holden that his administration had done a “wonderful job with this budget.”
“Bless your heart. You have so much to do,” Walker told Holden. “We are so much better off thanks to your leadership… You can take us to the next level.”
Holden refused to comment after the meeting.
Walker said he and the mayor met unexpectedly shortly before the budget meeting and laughed off their differences.
“He walked in, and I walked in, and we looked at each other and both started laughing,” Walker said in an interview after the budget meeting. “It just happened that way. We wished each other well and asked about each others grandchildren. Just like old times.”
Walker and Holden were once close political allies but more than a year ago began attacking one another in public interviews and meetings, with Walker criticizing Holden’s behavior and Holden speculating that Walker was positioning himself to run for mayor.
During the mayoral campaign — which Holden handily won with 60 percent in the primary — Walker was critical of Holden’s record for the past eight years, particularly on dealing with the parish’s crime problems.
Walker criticized Holden’s handling of the 2013 budget process in his Nov. 6 concession speech and predicted Holden’s negative attitude toward the council “is not going to change.” But Tuesday night, Walker said Holden was moving the parish in the right direction in addressing the crime problems.
“He addressed the issues I brought up. Crime is an issue that’s going to be there forever,” Walker said. “There are things you can debate with crime, unfortunately, because crime doesn’t end.”
Walker, whose last meeting as a councilman will be Wednesday, said he was happy the two could repair their friendship before he left office.
“During any political race, you have serious differences in the way you look at issues, but you never want to make the political personal,” Walker said.
Regarding the budget, Walker said Holden listened to the council’s requests in recent years, and delivered on what the council expected.
For example in the past two years, the Metro Council has voted to move funds in Holden’s budget to supplement the District Attorney’s Office and the Baton Rouge Drug and Alcohol Center.
Holden continued the supplements in their budgets for 2013.
Last year, the Metro Council also voted to take over and reallocate $850,000 for community programs and economic development initiatives controlled by the Mayor’s Office. This year, the mayor did not include the discretionary funds in the budget for the Mayor’s Office.
Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said the council was able to swiftly approve the budget this year because Holden’s administration reached out to the council to hear concerns ahead of the meeting.
She said Holden also invited council members and department heads to meet with him over the next few weeks to discuss funding priorities that could be included in a mid-year budget supplement next year.
A list of the council’s requests to be considered for a budget supplement includes $200,000 for the Council on Aging, $250,000 for the Louisiana Leadership Institute, and $225,000 in other various youth programs.
Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control has also requested $30,000 to fund a position, and Juvenile Court requested money to provide its employees with a 3 percent cos-of-living increase.
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