Mayor Sharon Weston Broome today pledged to work closely with Baton Rouge’s business community in the early days of her administration, promising to cut red tape from the permitting process and focus on economic development while rebuilding from the August flood.
In her first speech since being inaugurated last night, Broome addressed a packed room of business, investment and community leaders at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s monthly luncheon taking place at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center.
Broome said she will work closely with BRAC and its president/CEO, Adam Knapp, who is working on her transition team.
“(Flood) recovery is a long journey,” Broome said. “It is a hard one, a marathon—not a quick sprint. Yet it is absolutely essential that flood recovery is economic recovery. … We should boost our reliance on Baton Rouge businesses.”
Broome’s transition team, composed of dozens of community, business, academic and government leaders, is expected to deliver reports to her at the end of January.
Part of that team is in the process of auditing the state flood recovery contracts to see how Baton Rouge businesses are doing in getting and keeping government work. At BRAC’s event, Broome said she will stay close to the business community and take input from stakeholders throughout the parish to craft economic policy.
Broome also said she is committed to making city-parish contracting more equitable, but noted her transition team is still helping craft specific policies.
A Daily Report review of city-parish purchase orders in 2016 showed that only 2.7% of the dollars the city-parish spent on goods and services contracts with private businesses went to companies designated as minority and disadvantaged business enterprises.
The city-parish spent around $840 million on contracts last year, according to available data from Open Data BR, which excludes many orders less than $5,000. Of that, $22.6 million went to minority-owned or disadvantaged businesses.
Broome, meanwhile, cautiously offered support for public-private partnerships in certain areas.
“I want to make sure we open up the doors” to all residents for city-parish contracts, Broome said. “We have to have public-private partnerships, but I don’t think that means we’ll be excluding anybody.”
Broome said she is evaluating the city’s finances to see where she can leverage private dollars, and noted the work being done by her team to create a plan for attracting investment in the economically underserved northern part of the parish.
While she has begun her “nationwide” search for a new police chief to replace current Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., Broome declined to offer a timeline, noting the unusually short time period between the runoff on Dec. 10 and her inauguration yesterday.
The new mayor also told the crowd today she will focus on women’s issues, young people, transportation and race relations, noting the “acute, local problem” of racial strife in the area was transformed into a national issue last summer with the shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent shooting of several law enforcement officers.