As Baton Rouge’s racial divide becomes more evident, particularly at the Metro Council level, the NAACP and several other organizations are pushing to separate city-parish governance into two entities—one for the city of Baton Rouge; the other, for East Baton Rouge Parish.
The issue most recently arose at last week’s Metro Council meeting, but plans to untangle the city and parish into two separate governments have been in the works for years, says Mike McClanahan, president of NAACP Louisiana state conference.
To change existing law, those supporting the move must petition to alter specific provisions in the Plan of Government—the constitution for the city-parish—with supporting signatures of 10% of those who voted in the most recent parishwide election, notes Ashley Beck, Metro Council administrator-treasurer. The Metro Council would then decide whether to place the item on the next parishwide ballot.
McClanahan says the NAACP has been in talks with city-parish administrators, fashioning the proper legal language for the petition and ballot item. Other ministerial groups and social organizations are also interested in backing the issue, he adds.
All that’s left to do is roll out the plan to the public, McClanahan says.
“What we’re trying to do is give everyone a voice in how the city of Baton Rouge is run,” he says. “Under the current form, only a select few have a say-so.”
McClanahan argues the city-parish form of government hurts the city of Baton Rouge, which does not have its own separate governing entity as the East Baton Rouge communities of Central, Baker and Zachary do. Those municipalities all have their own mayors and city councils in addition to parish governance, which McClanahan says gives those residents more overall representation than those who live in the city of Baton Rouge.
As an example, McClanahan says the Metro Council’s five black members mostly represent the city, while the seven white members who carry the majority either make up “very small parts of the city of Baton Rouge or the larger part of the parish.” He argues that gives them more of a say-so as to what happens inside the city limits than those who actually represent it. All parish residents have the opportunity to vote to elect the mayor-president whether they live in the city limits or not.
“If the city had its own entity, we’d be able to build it up,” McClanahan says. “It’s crumbling because the resources … are spread thin throughout the parish.”
Should the city and parish governance separate, McClanahan says, organizers want to use the same boundary lines for a five-member City Council as those drawn for Baton Rouge City Court, comprised of three black judges and two white judges. The City of Baton Rouge would have its own mayor.
The NAACP leader says he thinks he has enough support for the item to land on next spring’s ballot.
“If you look at the 40,000 fans that would come to Southern’s football games and the 100,000 that would come to LSU’s football games, that’s 140,000 signatures right there,” McClanahan says. “We could’ve easily gotten it. And we’ll do it this time.”