Council voting on Broome’s revised plan to shake up three city-parish agencies

Ahead of today’s Metro Council vote, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration has tweaked its plan to shake up three major City Hall departments handling blight, redevelopment and housing programs with federal money.

Broome’s transition team had initially recommended merging the Office of Community Development—which is under the mayor’s control—with the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority and East Baton Rouge Housing Authority.

After announcing a more tempered plan to “realign” two of those—the OCD and RDA—Broome last month added the Housing Authority back into her plan. The realignment would shake up staffing and funding at the agencies, but stops short of merging them.

Changes to the somewhat obscure agencies would significantly shift the way the city-parish spends millions of federal dollars that are earmarked for public housing programs, flood remediation and anti-poverty measures, among other things.

If the council votes to approve the measures, HOME and CDBG funds will be funneled to the RDA. The Housing Authority will handle section 8 programs, and two other programs will go to the Division of Human Development Services. All the programs are funded by the federal government, which dictates specific rules for how its monies can be spent.

While some council members have voiced concern about the move, Rowdy Gaudet, Broome’s assistant chief administrative officer who has been handling the realignment, says he feels confident going into the vote after days of meetings with council members. He plans to pitch the move as a way for the city-parish to become more efficient.

Others, like councilmembers Chauna Banks and Tara Wicker, say concern over those expected efficiencies have already caused some employees to take early retirement and others to take pay cuts. One of the proposals the council will vote on is the elimination of 16 positions under the OCD.

“I think it’s an injustice to these employees,” Banks says. “Some of them have been there since the inception.”
“There are quite a few questions that are still looming out there,” Wicker adds.

Those employees were offered jobs in other areas, Gaudet says, but some chose to take early retirement.

If the mayor’s office doesn’t do anything, some worry the federal government will withhold millions of dollars in much needed programs. Last year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the city-parish OCD misspent $1.3 million in federal money.

“We’ve got to do something or the feds will come down on us and take everything we’ve gotten,” says councilwoman Barbara Freiberg. “I think you have to reorganize and make some significant changes. And I think that’s what the mayor’s office is trying to do.”

—Sam Karlin

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