Councilman proposes at-large seats on Metro Council

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Councilman Ryan Heck said the city-parish government could benefit from the addition of at-large council members who would represent the entire parish, rather than just local district interests.

Heck, on Friday, placed an item on the council agenda to create a committee that will review the composition of the Metro Council and propose amendments.

The council will vote next month on the committee.

“We are elected to represent a district, and every decision I make, I ask first and foremost is this good for my district?” he said. “We’re all parochial in some way. So having one or two or 10 — or whatever comes out of the committee — council members who can look past that, and look at the entire benefit of everyone, that serves us well.”

The councilman also said the change could potentially assuage some of the concerns by people in the proposed city of St. George who feel their interests are not adequately being represented. He said the makeup of 12 distinct council gives Baton Rouge’s representation an edge over other constituents.

“(St.George’s) complaint is that they pay a lot of taxes and they feel that they’re not getting their share,” he said. “This would create a larger parish voice.”

The council makeup is outlined in the Plan of Government, so changes would require approval from the Metro Council and a vote of the people.

Heck said he wants a committee to research the issue and make recommendations so he can generate broader support. He said it also will give the public more time to learn about the issue and form an opinion before voting, should the council approve it.

“To just bring it up in a council meeting and have it pass up or down is short sighted,” he said.

Heck said at-large council members are commonplace in other cities, such as New Orleans whose council has 5 district representatives and two at-large council members.

Former Metro Councilman Pat Culbertson twice sponsored proposals that would have called for the election of at least two at-large council members and reduced the district council members from 12 to 10.

His proposals never made it past the Metro Council, however.