Allegations fly in spat over future of community center
A clash between Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel and longtime Jewel J. Newman Community Center Director Carl Slaughter over the direction of the north Baton Rouge facility has led to accusations of mismanagement from one side and a threat to recall the first term council member from the other.
Slaughter,who has worked at the community center for 34 years and has been director for 31 years, is fighting any effort by Banks-Daniel to oust him. She was elected to the Metro Council last year.
In 2011, the Metro Council moved control of the community centers from the Mayor-President’s Office to the individual council members in whose districts the centers lie. Because of that change, Banks-Daniel is responsible for the operations of the center.
Slaughter is the lone community center director who is a classified employee in the city-parish civil service system. Because of the classification, Slaughter’s attorney Jill Craft maintains Banks-Daniel has no authority to fire Slaughter.
Although Slaughter was first appointed by the mayor serving at the time as director of the community center, he now must answer to Banks-Daniel as a result of the 2011 change of community center control, said Dawn Guillot, director of administration for the Parish Attorney’s Office.
Guillot said Banks-Daniel must go through the civil service disciplinary process in order to take any action against Slaughter, since he is a classified employee. That process includes calling a hearing to air any accusations against him, and the right of Slaughter to appeal.
The only difference between Slaughter and other community center directors is he cannot be fired at will, Guillot said.
Banks-Daniel sent written notice to Slaughter last month saying she wanted all photos in the center’s gymnasium lobby removed “to present a clean appearance for all visitors.”
Slaughter has said that over the past three decades, he has posted photos and other memorabilia from weddings, funerals, birthday parties and reunions to memorialize the occasions for the community on the lobby’s walls.
More than 200 members of the Scotlandville community bombarded the Mayor-President’s Office with phone calls complaining about Banks-Daniel’s order to take down the photos, Slaughter said. Scott Dyer, a spokesman for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said he was unable to confirm how many phone calls the mayor’s office received about the incident.
Slaughter also said many of the photos taken down had originally been taped to the walls and many were damaged or destroyed in the process of being removed.
“People come back years later to see those pictures. Why take them down? She gave no good reason. She came in there like a dictator,” Slaughter said.
The order to take down the photos was one of 16 tasks Banks-Daniel wanted Slaughter to complete by Aug. 23, according to an Aug. 20 email from Banks-Daniel to Slaughter.
Craft said Banks-Daniel filed a request with the Parish Attorney’s Office to have a disciplinary and suspension hearing for Slaughter but said the reasons weren’t clear. Although a hearing was scheduled, Craft said, it was canceled after consulting with the Parish Attorney’s Office, although another may be scheduled
Banks-Daniel said she wouldn’t comment on possible disciplinary action against any particular employee. She said the issue that concerns her is how to best serve the community.
“For me, this has nothing to do with any person. It’s about a vision,” Banks-Daniel said.
She said she wants to make sure the entire operation of the community center improves. She said the community center’s revenues have dropped over the past few years and she wants to straighten out issues discovered in a 2010 revenue audit of the community center.
According to the 2010 audit, a computer class fee could not be traced to a bank deposit; there was an average revenue deposit lag time of 17 days; and staff did not issue receipts for rental revenue for two events as well as for a computer class fee.
“Since the leadership of the community center has fallen on me, I want to make sure our residents benefit. Right now, I’m working with the people I’ve inherited. But it’s not about them and I think it’s selfish for them to think in those terms,” Banks-Daniel said.
Banks-Daniel also said she wants to ensure there is accountability.
Slaughter’s brother, Maurice Slaughter, said Banks-Daniel is trying to oust her brother to put one of her cronies in the job. He also said there may be bad blood between his brother and Banks-Daniel because another Slaughter brother — James Slaughter Jr. —- ran against Banks-Daniel for the District 2 Metro Council seat in 2012.
Maurice Slaughter also questioned Banks-Daniel’s qualifications as a Metro Council member, saying she is not a good fit for the position. He said he’s launching a recall effort to remove her from political office.
“She has a background in social service,” Maurice Slaughter said. “But her skills are not good for attracting economic development. She’s used to grants and entitlements.”
Maurice Slaughter has organized a rally for 11 a.m. Saturday at the community center for the recall effort and to show the community’s support for his brother.
Asked about the recall effort, Banks-Daniel said she serves at the pleasure of the district’s voters.
“That’s what community engagement is all about,” she said. “I’m not relying on anything but hard work, and people have complimented me on that work.”