With 10 fresh new faces on the council and a new mayor pro tem (elected in 15 minutes, not in a multiweek fiasco), I heard much enthusiasm from the public, which had high expectations.
A large percentage of the council is young (under 40) and never before served in public office, and almost half of the new crop came as a result of term limits. So, you can imagine the surprise and disappointment when they took up the task of selecting members for boards and commissions—first BREC and then Planning & Zoning—and simply re-appointed two members currently serving and one who had served for years and had just been off for a brief period. Basically continuing more of the same.
I am not going to even name the three individuals because they are not the issue, but all three have served, they are all retired, and they are all over 60. Again, nothing wrong with that and it certainly doesn’t disqualify them from serving. But are these the kind of appointments we expected from an almost completely new Metro Council?
Let me ask, were there no young people who applied for these very important public boards? (The fact is, there were.) Might it not have been a good idea to put someone who is a young parent who uses the BREC parks and their programs on the board to provide a different perspective? How many parents currently serve on the BREC commission?
And when it came to the Planning & Zoning Commission, the first attempt ended in a tie vote mostly along racial lines, which quickly reminded me of the old council and the Darrell Glasper debacle. Ironically, this vote involved a current member of the Planning & Zoning Commission who is term-limited. That’s the same concept that got four of our new council members their opportunity. And suddenly it’s not important that the public wants term limits on boards and commissions. Amazing how quickly the politics can change people. Sad too, and very disappointing.
The Planning & Zoning appointment came back up and was a tie again. The black term-limited member versus the new white guy. It would take nine votes from our new metro council to re-appoint the current member to another term. No way. It would never happen with this new crew. But it did.
Trae Welch, a Democrat from the northern end of the parish, represented the term-limited member and made the argument that there was no one from that area that sits on the Planning & Zoning Commission and that she was also the appointee to BREC, where there was also no one from his area but her. What wisdom and leadership. It’s a new day on the Metro Council … NOT.
Is Councilman Trae Welch telling us that there is only one person in the northern part of EBR who is willing and qualified to serve on Planning & Zoning and BREC—and that’s the current term-limited member? I challenge him on that. The council made the wrong decision.
I hope the Metro Council members will look at the message sent by the voters in their own elections: change, new faces, new ideas and term limits. We expected this new council to carry that message forward to the boards and commissions they appoint and they stumbled right out of the gate. (Let me say for the record, they did put two new, younger members on the CATS board to oversee mass transit, but why did they stop there?) There were lots of resumes submitted to the council and many were young people. We talk about getting young people to stay in our community and get involved, but do we allow them a place at the table? The future is theirs—but how much say do they have in it? It seems our elders have a hard time letting go and must have some heavy influence over our Metro Council. I’m not sure why. But the results were very disappointing to those of us who supported this widespread change on the council, only to see them take action that reminds us all of the gang we just got rid of.
It seems they’re still serving the same kool-aid in the council chambers and the new council has already finished their first glass.
High expectations at Southern
I want to congratulate attorney Tony Clayton as the new chairman of the Southern Board of Supervisors. He is joined by recent gubernatorial appointees to the board from Baton Rouge, which include attorneys Walter Dumas and Murphy Bell. I believe a majority of the board has now been appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, which means the potential for a new era in the Southern system.
Most observers, and many Southern alums, were embarrassed by some of the antics and headlines generated by former chairman Johnny Anderson and the old board. Too often, they were meddling in campus affairs and letting the power and position go to their head. This did not serve the Southern University system or our state well.
During my own six years serving on a board of higher education, I learned the board’s role is one of setting policy and of governance, not micromanagement of the campus. The board hires the president and chancellors—and then lets them do their job and holds them accountable. But a board shouldn’t interfere in hiring a football coach, a dean of a college, or anyone else on campus. (It has happened at both Southern and LSU, and it’s wrong.) That is the job of the chancellor, period.
I know Chairman Clayton is wise enough to understand the board’s role and explain that to his colleagues. You oversee a system, but you don’t micromanage. Micromanagement is what happens too often in local school board politics (and there may be new legislation this session to even change that). There is no place for it in higher ed.
Clayton and the new board must seize this opportunity to begin a new era—focus on policy and governance, hire your leaders—and let them lead. Then hold them accountable for results. Folks I speak with are expecting the new chair and board to raise the bar and improve the reputation of the Southern board. As we face some major challenges in higher ed, both the Southern and LSU boards must work as a team with their system and campus leaders, as well as the governor, to serve our state and their students.
As I write this column, the U.S. Senate is debating President Barack Obama’s stimulus package. While most feel that something has to be done to boost the economy, many believe that this package is not the answer in its current condition. The short-term boost will be offset by the huge long-term burden created for the next generation.
The bill, sold as a “jobs stimulus package,” includes items that create zero jobs. Throughout the presidential campaign we heard both candidates proclaim the evil of earmarks and pork barrel politics—only to find, after the recent “change” in Washington, a stimulus package “wrapped in bacon.”
Examples found at StimulusWatch.org include: two dog parks in Maine, $50,000; a dog park in Chula Vista, Calif., $500,000 (property in California is quite expensive); golf course renovations in Arlington, Texas, $6 million; an indoor soccer field in Hemstead, N.Y., $1 million; and a convention center hotel in Dallas, $386 million.
Two other items were $393,000 for patrol rifles for Pembroke Pines, Fla., and $20,000 for Tasers for Winnsboro, Texas—both projects claiming to create zero jobs.
Despite the new changes in Washington, they haven’t forgotten how to waste taxpayer’s money.