Center director says politics behind dismissal

A south Baton Rouge community center director who was fired last week by newly re-elected East Baton Rouge Parish Councilwoman Tara Wicker alleged his removal was an act of political retribution, a charge that Wicker denies.

Calvin Beal, who had been the director of the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center since 2006, said Wicker notified him Friday that his services were no longer required.

“Supposedly it was because we had different opinions on things,” Beal said Tuesday. “I know it was largely due to the election.”

Wicker, a one-term incumbent, defeated challenger Larry Selders in the Nov. 6 primary, winning 56 percent of the vote.

The two candidates also ran against each other in 2008, when the race was decided by just six votes.

Beal said he supported Selders in 2008.

“I am a friend of the Selders family,” Beal said. “I had always been supportive.”

But Beal said he did not take a side in this year’s contest.

“I didn’t contribute; I didn’t tell folks to go out and support him,” he said.

Beal said Wicker hosted a party for him in August to thank him for the job he was doing, which made his firing all the more perplexing.

“In August, she gave me an appreciation when she talked about how great of a (public) servant I was,” he said. “Here it is November, she wants to fire me.”

Now that he has been fired, Beal said he is considering his options.

“I have not talked to counsel,” he said. “I don’t think she was fair in the process.”

Wicker said the Butler Community Center needed to go in a different direction.

“The center has been hugely underutilized,” Wicker said. “There have been attempts to bring in new programs and Mr. Beal was not interested.”

Wicker said she wants more programs for youth and families with children and that the center needs to improve at “providing services for all parts of the community.”

Personnel issues also contributed to Beal’s departure, Wicker said.

“There have been some significant challenges with the way he treated people,” Wicker said.

Wicker said the celebration for Beal in August was a last-ditch attempt to help him improve his demeanor.

“Maybe he felt like he was not appreciated,” she said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t help.”

Wicker denied that Beal’s 2008 support for Selders had anything to do with his dismissal.

“If he did support Larry, it was a surprise to me,” she said. “If I would have wanted to fire him for that, I would have done it in December.”

In December, the Metro Council moved control of the community centers from the Mayor-President’s Office to the individual council members in which the centers lie.

Wicker said she had not yet chosen a replacement for Beal.