The East Baton Rouge Parish government may have violated the state constitution by selling two pieces of public land and enacting two contracts with the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Program, according to an audit released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor today.
The 63-page audit says that two pieces of land were sold for less than their appraised value, an action forbidden by the state constitution, which states public property must be sold at or above fair market value. According to the audit, the city-parish may have also failed to establish minimum prices and publish public notice of the ordinances regarding the sale, as is required by the state.
As first reported by Daily Report in 2017, one of the deals involved a prominent 50,000-square-foot vacant lot at the corner of Jefferson Highway and Bluebonnet Boulevard that sold for just $10,000—an astonishing sale that left local experts scratching their heads.
The city-parish also contracted with area vendors to provide services in connection with the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination program. Two of those contracts lacked sufficient detail to determine whether the amounts the city-parish paid were reasonable in light of vendors’ services, the audit reports.
Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says the city-parish provided the missing documentation and will address contracts like those audited with more specificity in the future.
As for the land sales, Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson says the city-parish disagrees that the sales were not properly advertised.
“However, in hindsight, the second deal was clearly for less than the market the value and we have filed a suit to rescind the sale,” Batson says, adding that future sales will include an appraisal and minimum bid.
See the full audit, which includes a six-page response from Mayor Sharon Weston Broome.