Let’s set the agenda for parish elections

Let’s set the agenda for parish elections

This fall you will go to the polls and decide who will lead our community for the next four years. This will include the mayor-president and Metro Council. While we know the incumbents always have more money and the advantage in name recognition, I have always believed that—and even seen examples where—big ideas can beat big money. And ideas are what the election should be about. What are the ideas proposed by candidates to meet the challenges facing our community and grow Baton Rouge into a dynamic capital city that keeps and attracts young people—the building blocks for our future?

In these elections we know the campaign consultants will poll voters, who will say their top priorities are crime, education and jobs—oh, and most will say they don’t want to pay more taxes. These issues are all critical to our future, but saying that is the easy part. Are we all going to let the candidates get off the hook by just printing a couple of sentences on a push card or showing a few “keywords” on your television screen accompanied by images of flashing red lights and the sound of sirens screaming?

We should not respond like Pavlov’s dog, running to vote for a candidate because “by God he thinks like I do and shares my priorities!” That candidate is just regurgitating what you told his consultants in a poll. Those are your words—not his or hers. We know the devil is in the details. The question voters must ask is, how will they do it? What are their own ideas to meet the challenges and what are their new ideas for the future?

In the May issue of 225 (a sister publication to Business Report), you will find a cover story on “11 ways to improve Baton Rouge,” written by Maggie Heyn Richardson and 225 Editor Jeff Roedel. (Find a free copy on newsstands or go online to 225batonrouge.com.) They know making Baton Rouge “America’s next great city” means different things to different people, and there are a lot of ways to get there.

“Some of the ideas for the following ways to improve Baton Rouge came directly out of our Pop-up Think Tank (a diverse group of nine young people between 25 and 42 years old),” they write. “Others evolved more organically over the course of several months (and in a few cases, years) of talking, complaining and dreaming.”

The list of ideas is interesting and original, but reflects the thoughts of many who are starting their lives, careers and families here. The story notes, “It is our hope that this list is not a conclusion but a beginning—the start of new conversations, new projects and new innovations.” The 225 team also produced a video with more ideas from your neighbors. You can view it on YouTube here.

All 11 ideas are worth your attention, but I like three in particular and want to suggest you think about making them part of the upcoming elections and ask your candidates about them.

Idea No. 6 is: “Make sixth grade amazing.” The authors write, “Ah, middle school. No longer ‘little kids’ but not yet teenagers, most middle-school students are, for the very first time, given options: band or art class? Choir or theatre? This crossroads makes sixth grade the best place to target young people hungry to discover themselves and their passions by providing increased one-on-one mentorship programs, after-school workshops, project-based entrepreneur days and student-specific apprenticeships.”

The truth is, the reason I am publishing the magazine you are reading could be traced back to sixth grade at U-High, where our teacher Dewey Guillot decided to have us produce the first newspaper for our elementary school. I loved producing each edition of “Tiger Tales,” and that passion eventually became my vocation. Sixth grade matters—and so does a great teacher.

Idea No. 8 is: “Remember the river.” “Many U.S. cities situated on rivers have woven waterways into their very identity. Cincinnati is one. Chattanooga is another. Even Shreveport-Bossier City has made the riverfront part of its urban character.”

And then they touched on specifics: “Extending a levee-top bike path from downtown Baton Rouge to New Orleans and renovating the old run-down City Dock area into a mixed-use development would connect us regionally and give Baton Rouge an iconic riverfront structure.”

Amen to that. That rusty old eyesore at the entrance to our city on Interstate 10 must change.

In my book they saved the best for last. Idea No. 11 is: “Make ‘single-purpose’ a dirty word.”

“If anything deserves to raise the righteous indignation of Baton Rougeans, it is the term ‘single-purpose.’ Come on. It’s 2012. Louisiana is 200 years old, and as the state capital, Baton Rouge has a lack of outdoor spaces and developments that work effectively as destinations. Wouldn’t it be nice if local developments stopped being single-purposed and were instead engineered as communal spaces able to create powerful and extended user experiences?

“Even our amenities lack broad focus. The University and City Park lakes, arguably the city’s most popular recreational feature, don’t offer experiences rich in the kind of retail and ancillary attractions found in places like Lady Bird Johnson Lake—formerly Town Lake—in Austin.

“Though greatly improved with tennis courts and a dog park, City Park needs more. It needs to be our community’s ‘Central Park,’ with bike trails and walking paths that connect to those around the lakes, an amphitheatre and adjoining retail and condos. We need these things more than we need another nine holes of golf five minutes from Webb Park. Imagine students, families and runners relaxing inside a new café on the lakeshore with its covered deck jutting out over the water.”

Can you envision that? I see it. How amazing that would be in the heart of our community. This is the highest and best use and should become a priority project for BREC, LSU and the city.

Read the issue, watch the video and start the conversation of what we want and expect for our community. Then make these the issues for the fall elections. Find candidates who have a vision and big ideas, or at least embrace great ideas and are passionate about making them a reality. We can’t have leaders who just want to settle for the status quo. That won’t make us great.

If you can’t find a candidate to support, become the candidate. One person can make a difference. That said, I believe there are many who share these ideas and have other great ones. And a parishwide election is a great platform for discussion and debate over the direction of our community. The time is now to set the agenda.

Examine the leadership

Lately, the shenanigans going on between Mayor Kip Holden and many on the Metro Council have continued, and they have not been flattering or productive. It seems the fight focuses on Holden vs. Mike Walker, Scott Wilson and Ulysses Addison. After last week’s schoolyard brawl at the council meeting, Walker said, “This council will not be degraded, insulted, disrespected and totally ignored in that manner.”

But, ironically, the behavior by a few (six members did their jobs), in halting the operations of government to retaliate, has degraded them and insulted and disrespected the public that pays them—and expects officials to lead and maintain decorum. To be fair, Holden left the meeting and his chief administrative officer did not respond appropriately to requests from the council. This type of behavior could cost them all at election time if folks get fed up and decide this is not the kind of leadership that will make our city “great.”

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