Holden, council seek to mend fences

Mayor-President Kip Holden and members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council say they are looking forward to improving what has often been a rocky relationship as they embark on their next term in office.

“I’m very optimistic,” Holden said. “I’ve had a conversation with a number of the people who are now in the council, and we all want to sit down and move Baton Rouge forward as a team.”

Holden and several members of the Metro Council have had a particularly stormy relationship throughout the past few years, with council members complaining that Holden is uncooperative and Holden complaining that the council is micromanaging his office.

Holden was re-elected to a third term Tuesday with an overwhelming 60 percent of the vote amid a field of three other candidates. He received 115,303 votes to 65,970 for Mike Walker, the term-limited Metro Councilman who was his closest competitor.

The election Tuesday, in which President Barack Obama was up for re-election, drew a high voter turnout in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to figures from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office. Sixty-eight percent of the parish’s 283,507 qualified voters in the parish, the figures show.

The new Metro Council, which takes over Jan. 1, will be made up of mostly familiar faces. At least eight incumbents are set to return and an additional incumbent could be returning depending on the outcome of a Dec. 8 runoff election.

Among the 2013 council members, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson and incoming new members Ryan Heck and Buddy Amoroso publicly endorsed Walker. Loupe took part in a robocall effort on Walker’s behalf, and Heck and Amoroso each contributed to Walker’s campaign.

Amoroso, a Republican who ran unopposed for Walker’s open seat, took to social media to urge voters to support Walker.

Amoroso said this week that he considers Holden a friend and looks forward to working with him.

“Politically, I did endorse Mike Walker and I believe Mike would have been an excellent mayor,” Amoroso said. “But Kip is a great man, Mike Walker is a great man. If there’s a common thread between the both of them, it’s their love of Baton Rouge, and I look forward to working with the mayor.”

Amoroso said he thought as an outside observer that the council’s fighting with the mayor’s office was “unhealthy.” He said he hopes they will be able to enjoy open communication once the new council takes office.

Heck, a Republican who ran unopposed for Alison Gary’s seat, also said he didn’t expect his open support for Walker in the mayor’s race to interfere with his relationship with Holden.

“I supported Mike Walker because I thought he’d be an excellent mayor, but Mr. Holden is the mayor and I want to work with him for the betterment of Baton Rouge,” Heck said.

Heck said members of Holden’s administrative team like chief administrative officer William Daniel and assistant chief administrative officer John Price have been accommodating and accessible to him so far.

Councilman Scott Wilson said Holden has casually reached out to him about mending their relationship.

“I’ve seen him out on a couple occasions and we said ‘Hello’ and that we’d talk,” Wilson said, adding that he felt the council and the mayor have an opportunity to make a fresh start.

Wilson and Holden’s relationship became particularly icy last year after Wilson attempted to delete Holden’s $748 million capital improvements tax plan from the agenda before a public hearing.

The tax plan ultimately was brought before the council for public hearing and a vote, but the Metro Council voted against sending it to parish voters, saying Holden didn’t provide them information about it in a timely fashion.

“It’s a clean slate, but the ball is in his court,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to meet with this council, with each individual and you’ve got to communicate with this council so we can move this parish forward.”

Wilson admitted he had some reservations about the fact that Holden is term-limited.

“I have concerns that he’s a third-term lame duck with 60 percent of the vote,” Wilson said.

“I just don’t want to feel like he’s going to do what he wants to do and that he has his own agenda.”

Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she is glad Holden won re-election and hopes the council will be able to “support and advocate” for the mayor as he continues to pursue his vision for the parish.

Edwards said she hopes Holden’s final term as mayor will mean less “pressure from special interest groups and distractions,” and that he will be able to help the Metro Council tackle issues important to them.

She said the council has had limited interaction with the mayor in the last eight months, which she attributed to his re-election campaign.

Holden said he thinks things could improve in part because Walker will no longer be on the council.

Holden and Walker used to be political allies and friends, but their relationship has deteriorated over the last four years.

Holden said Walker was responsible for “consistently portraying me as a person who doesn’t communicate with the council.”