Mayor-President Kip Holden’s abrupt firing of Police Chief Dewayne White last week has ignited a discussion about whether voters should elect the police chief, an East Baton Rouge Parish Metro councilwoman said Monday.
Holden fired White about 20 months after the mayor-president appointed him to the position.
“Since the chief was fired, a lot of people are wanting to discuss the possibility of how we can take the politics out of that process,” Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said.
Marcelle placed an item on the Metro Council’s Wednesday agenda to discuss changing the city-parish’s plan of government to make the police chief an elected position.
She said she wants to hear from the city-parish staff about what steps would need to be taken, and she wants to hear from fellow council members about whether the change would be something they are interested in pursuing.
Asked for comment Monday, Holden stressed that the city-parish plan of government gives him the authority to choose the city police chief, but he would not comment on his position if the Metro Council were to pursue changing the plan of government.
“I don’t speculate,” he said. “I’m responding to something before us, I’m not responding to what ifs.”
Parish Attorney Mary Roper said with a majority vote, the Metro Council can put the plan of government change on the ballot and let voters decide if they want to elect the police chief.
Jill Craft, attorney for White, said electing the police chief would remedy some of the problems White endured during his short tenure.
“If we have an elected chief of police, there’s a lot more accountability in the position, and it would directly minimize the ability of the administration to micromanage the Police Department,” Craft said.
Last week, Craft represented White in a news conference and said White was fired because he fought back against Holden’s frequent micromanagement.
Marcelle said she was concerned White was driven out by the Baton Rouge police union.
She said White likely upset the union when he made public statements about how some members of the department “did not have a great relationship with the African-American community, and he wanted to change that.”
“Early on, that probably started some rebellion from the union,” Marcelle said. “But I don’t think the union needs to run the Police Department.”
She said the perception that the union influences the Police Department will hinder the city’s ability to attract qualified candidates in the future.
Chris Stewart, police union president, did not return a phone call for comment, but issued a statement on behalf of the union last week applauding Holden’s decision to fire White and blamed White for the high violent crime in the city and the low number of arrests last year.
“I feel strongly we need to at least look at it,” Marcelle said. “And the reason why I was passionate about it is that I believe the chief was doing a great job.”
Councilman Trae Welch said he strongly supports making the police chief an elected position, because the chief would be accountable to the voters.
“I don’t know the full story about what happened between Kip (Holden) and Chief White, but I do know this — there was a tremendous amount of community support for Chief White,” Welch said.
Councilman Scott Wilson said he would prefer the police chief be appointed.
He said too many elected officials could lead to political infighting, noting recent fights between Holden and Sheriff Sid Gautreax who are both elected.
He also said White’s termination was Holden’s decision to make.
“Chief White works for the mayor, he doesn’t work for the council,” Wilson said. “I don’t know the details, but he didn’t work for me.”
Several small neighboring cities elect their police chiefs such as Central, Baker, Zachary, Clinton, Port Allen, Gonzales, Amite, Brusly, Walker, Addis, Opelousas and Plaquemine.
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