We find it less than coincidental that a movement to create a new breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge gained steam after members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board engaged in petty bickering about the selection of an interim superintendent. We oppose the creation of such a district, but the political equation here seems pretty clear. The public tends to get disgusted when public officials feud and hold up important business because of their differences.
That lesson seems lost on Mayor-President Kip Holden and some members of the Metro Council, who have been at odds for months now. The rift surfaced again recently when members of the Metro Council wanted information from officials on Holden’s staff, felt rebuffed by the lack of response, then retaliated by voting down routine requests from the mayor-president’s administration. The biggest losers are the parish’s taxpayers, who are footing the bill for a three-ring circus instead of a government that works on their behalf.
The latest ruckus started at a Metro Council meeting after Metro Councilman Trae Welch asked Holden administration officials to come to the podium and address whether they would consider providing additional money for summer youth programs. Holden had left the meeting early, as he often does. John Carpenter and Gwen Hamilton, administrative officers for Holden, shook their heads from their seats and said they couldn’t comment.
Several council members took offense and responded by creating a majority to vote down routine administration requests to approve filling vacancies in the Department of Public Works and Downtown Development District.
Maybe Carpenter, Holden’s chief administrative officer, could have gone to the microphone to say that, while he wasn’t prepared with the information requested by the Metro Council, he’d be happy to provide it soon. And maybe Metro Council members could have reached some accommodation on this disagreement before it escalated. Holden’s frequent absence when important city business is being discussed by the Metro Council isn’t helpful, either. Several members of the Metro Council have complained that Holden doesn’t adequately brief them on city-parish business.
Mayor Pro-tem Mike Walker, who chairs the council, is running against Holden for mayor-president, adding another level of awkwardness to relations between Holden and the council.
But there’s no reason the mayor, his staff and the Metro Council can’t work out their differences in a spirit of civility.
When confronted by extended bickering among public officials, voters just might wish a pox on all of them.