EBR council hears from public on electing police chief

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --  Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, left, speaks during discussion Wednesday of a proposed move to make the position of Baton Rouge police chief an elected rather than appointed position. Listening, right, is Councilman Buddy Amoroso.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, left, speaks during discussion Wednesday of a proposed move to make the position of Baton Rouge police chief an elected rather than appointed position. Listening, right, is Councilman Buddy Amoroso.

Fallout from Police Chief Dewayne White’s firing continued in the chambers of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday as some members of the public urged council members to allow voters, instead of the mayor, to pick the police chief.

But because of low public turnout — only four people from the audience spoke at the meeting — Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle asked to defer the Metro Council’s debate on the issue until March 13.

Marcelle, in the aftermath of White’s termination, had placed an item on the council agenda to open discussion about whether the council should move to change the process of selecting the police chief to make it an elective position. Such a move would require a change in the Plan of Government that would have to be approved by voters.

All four speakers at Wednesday’s council meeting said they support allowing the police chief to be selected by voters.

“Baton Rouge can no longer accept an appointed police chief,” Charles Bethley told council members. “We can no longer tolerate a mayor who is seemingly in the back pocket of the police union.”

Holden fired White earlier this month, accusing him of insubordination and violating various protocols and procedures. White, in a hearing last week, accused the administration of micromanaging him because of pressure from the police union and of thwarting his efforts to deal with racial and sexual discrimination issues inside the department.

Phillip Lillard told council members he’d rather have 300,000 or 400,000 people voting for a police chief rather than leaving the choice to one person.

Speakers also lauded White’s efforts to deal with discrimination in the department’s ranks.

“What troubled me most of all was the fact that we had a white police chief calling a black mayor to task for not protecting the rights of black citizens,” the Rev. Reginald Pitcher said. “I thought if anyone would be sensitive to the needs of the African-American community it would be (the mayor), but apparently I was mistaken.”

Mike Knepper said electing a police chief would allow the chief to do his or her job “without any outside influence.”

Marcelle said the earliest the council could put an item on the ballot for voters to decide if they wanted to change the way the chief is selected would be Oct. 19. She urged the public to attend the March 13 meeting to voice their opinions.

“I did this so we could open a conversation and a dialogue of what we want to do here,” Marcelle said. “Do we want a board to appoint a chief; do we want to elect our chief? We owe that to our constituents who are calling and asking us to discuss this matter.”

William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, said he does not think the public comments made supporting White represent the views of the majority of the people in the parish.

Daniel, who recommended White’s dismissal, also urged the public to withhold judgment until all the facts come out.

“Once all the facts have been presented, I think people will have an entirely different picture of what was going on in the police chief’s office,” Daniel said.

He added that the Mayor’s Office will actively make its case against White at his public appeals hearing before the civil service board.