St. George fire appointments caught up in incorporation debate

The Metro Council was split Wednesday night over who should serve on the St. George Fire Commission, a board that has landed in the crosshairs of the debate about the proposed St. George incorporation.

Three of the five St. George fire commissioners’ terms had expired, and had requested reappointment.

On Wednesday, the Metro Council narrowly — and only after repeated votes — reappointed two of the commissioners, Gary Durham and Johnny Suchy. The council deadlocked on the third reappointment, David Carnes. The council will vote on him again at its next meeting.

The appointments, which are ordinarily fairly routine, first appeared before the council in January. At that time, council members John Delgado, C. Denise Marcelle and Donna Collins-Lewis each nominated a challenger to the commissioners from the floor.

Delgado later admitted he’d orchestrated the attempt to oust the sitting commissioners because he believed the St. George Fire Department had improperly allowed its facilities to be used for campaign purposes related to the incorporation effort.

More than a dozen St. George firefighters, including Chief Gerard Tarleton, attended Wednesday’s meeting in uniform to show their solidarity and support of the sitting commissioners.

Dustin Yates, a firefighter and one of the three co-chairmen for the St. George incorporation, said he was disappointed Delgado had politicized the agency.

“As a public safety agency, we hate being drug into the political battle,” Yates said. “We probably protect 100,000 people every day and something like this takes our focus away from what we’re meant to be doing when we’re brought into the political arena.”

Delgado said after the meeting it was the St. George Fire District that initially waded into the debate.

“The fact is politics is already dragged into this argument by people like Mr. Carnes when he goes out publicly speaking in favor of St. George, something I think is divisive and destructive for this parish,” Delgado said. “So I’m certainly not going to support his reappointment.”

The sitting commissioners were pitted against four other nominees: Brad Detruch, Bradley Ricks, John Scott and Connie Bernard, an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member whom Delgado nominated at Wednesday’s meeting.

Bernard came close to receiving the appointment over Suchy, with votes from Delgado, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Ronnie Edwards, Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle. These council members have the largest constituencies inside the city of Baton Rouge.

But ultimately, Marcelle ended up voting for Suchy in a subsequent vote that gave him the majority. Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Chandler Loupe, Buddy Amoroso, Joel Boé and Ryan Heck also voted for Suchy.

These council members, save Marcelle, have the largest constituencies representing unincorporated parts of the parish.

Tara Wicker was not present for the meeting.

Tarleton has said the Fire Department is not taking a position on the proposed city of St. George, and is actively denying requests for the facilities to be used for meetings and petition sites. He said some informational meetings were held at the station early on.

Delgado has noted that on Sept. 23, a petition drive was held at the firefighter union’s building, next to the fire station and is owned by St. George Fire Department.