The first Metro Council meeting of the new year erupted in disputes involving the proposed c ity of St. George, including an attempt by some council members to oust St. George Fire Protection District commissioners for their role in the campaign.
The proposed city of St. George is made up of the boundaries of the St. George Fire Protection and East Side Fire Protection districts. The fire districts are governed by volunteer commission boards, appointed by the Metro Council.
Three of the five people serving as St. George fire commissioners were up for reappointment Wednesday and no other names appeared on the ballot for consideration.
But before the vote, Metro Council members John Delgado, C. Denise Marcelle and Donna Collins-Lewis each offered a nomination from the floor to be considered: Bradley Ricks, Bradley Dutruch and John W. Scott.
Ultimately, the council failed to garner a majority for any candidates and deferred the nominations to the next meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said during the meeting that the “well-orchestrated event” was an attempted coup by some council members to replace St. George fire commissioners with Baton Rouge supporters.
“Everybody sitting up here knows exactly what you’re doing,” a visibly annoyed Loupe to the council. “You’re trying to get Baton Rouge Fire (Department) to take over the St. George Fire Department.”
Loupe represents a portion of the proposed St. George area.
In an interview later, he accused Delgado and the Baton Rouge Fire Union of colluding to take control of the St. George Fire Department.
“It’s simple-minded and childish,” Loupe said. “I was disappointed, we usually don’t stoop to these levels.”
Delgado acknowledged organizing the attempt to oust the commissioners. He said St. George Fire Department has improperly allowed its facilities to be used for campaign purposes related to the incorporation effort and noted that its employees have been vocal about the effort.
“I believe it’s an improper use of public resources and that it has occurred in the wide-open and under the eyes and watch of the existing board,” Delgado said in an interview. “Replacing the board is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.”
Delgado said he shared his idea with council members he thought would support the idea and asked the Baton Rouge Fire Department who they would recommend.
Shane Spillman, president of the Baton Rouge fire union, who attended the meeting, said he was only there to support Ricks, a retired Baton Rouge firefighter Delgado had nominated to serve on the commission. But he denied allegations that he had colluded to overthrow the St. George Fire District board.
Marcelle said outside of the council meeting that her decision to nominate Dutruch from the floor to the St. George board was unrelated to the St. George incorporation city effort, and she took offense to Loupe’s accusation.
“I didn’t have an ulterior motive,” she said. “It has nothing to do with retribution against St. George, and it saddens me that they’re taking it along those lines.”
Eldon Ledoux, spokesman for the St. George Fire Department, deferred comment to Chief George Tartleton. Tarleton could not be reached.
Marcelle and Collins-Lewis do not represent residents in the St. George Fire District area.
Delgado said about 500 households in his council district are served by the St. George Fire Department.
Councilman Joel Boé said Delgadao briefed him about the plan minutes before the council meeting started.
“I’m a little ticked off that all of a sudden council members outside of the St. George Fire District have such valuable input about who should be running St. George Fire Department,” Boé said. “I suspect it’s an effort to undermine the whole city of St. George, by going through the Fire Department.”
Boé said he’s never had a single complaint about the governance of the St. George Fire Department.
Early in the meeting, the council also grappled with a couple other issues related to St. George.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso attempted unsuccessfully to delete an item intended to codify the sources of city-parish revenue, locking them into the city-parish’s budget.
The item outlined which parts of the budget came from the city of Baton Rouge and which parts came from the unincorporated parts of the parish.
Some council members have called it an attempt to keep St. George from accessing sales taxes from such major business enterprises as the Mall of Louisiana, L’Auberge Casino and Perkins Rowe in the event they incorporate.
The proposal was being introduced on the agenda Wednesday and is not up for a vote until the next council meeting. But Amoroso’s motion, which failed, would have prevented the council from even hearing the item.
“This would only create a further divide between the parish and the city of Baton Rouge,” Amoroso said.
Another measure, proposed by the five women on the council, to require city-parish employees to live in the city of Baton Rouge was killed after the council failed to take any action on it.
Amoroso said he is fearful that the St. George debate is already dividing the council.
“This is the first council meeting of the year and probably the most contentious meeting I’ve seen in my 12 months serving on the council,” he said. “I hope this isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come.”
Boé said the council will have to find a way to “agree to disagree” on the issue in a civilized way.
“It’s creating a lot of strife on the council,” he said. “People have strong opinions one way or another, but to be vindictive and pull backdoor shenanigans is just unacceptable.”