At its Jan. 22 meeting, shortly after appointing attorney Jennifer Racca to fill the unexpired term of Barbara Freiberg, the Metro Council voted on a couple of other key appointments, naming accountant Bill Scheffy to the BREC board and former radio host Bill Profita to the airport commission.
But because Racca’s appointment was later deemed invalid—the result of a procedural error—so, too, were the appointments of Scheffy and Profita.
Though the council held a special meeting Jan. 29 to again vote on Racca’s appointment, which passed, it didn’t have enough members present at that meeting to produce a majority of seven votes for either Scheffy or Profita.
As a result, both appointments will again be up for consideration at this week’s council meeting—the third time in four weeks.
While the situation is partly an example of why local governments need to make sure they’re sweating the details, it’s also a potential example of racial bias, according to one of the also-rans for the BREC position. That’s because Scheffy and Profita are both white and the two candidates vying against them for the board seats are black.
Competing with Scheffy for the BREC board is community activist Gary Chambers, while attorney Cedric Upshaw is up against Profita for the slot on the airport commission.
“I think it’s an example of how if you have a black candidate and a white candidate both vying for the same position, in Baton Rouge, the white candidate is always going to get the job,” Chambers says. “Typically, if a black person gets appointed it’s only because another black person is also up for the position.”
Chambers says he has counted noses on the council and is fairly certain he won’t have the votes to defeat Scheffy for the BREC board. As for the airport commission, others on the council say it is likely, though not certain, Profita will again be appointed over Upshaw.
“I think most people will do what they did first time around,” Metro Council member Tara Wicker says. “So the outcome will probably be the same.”
Chambers, who was nominated for the BREC seat by Council member Lamont Cole, says though the BREC board is racially diverse, it doesn’t have anyone who lives in north Baton Rouge, which is something he believes makes him uniquely qualified for the position.
“Not a single member of the BREC board lives in north Baton Rouge,” he says. “If you don’t live in the community, you don’t know the community and can’t speak for the community.”
For his part, Scheffy, who has served four years on BREC’s finance committee, declines to comment on the racial issue. But he says the process is broken and needs to be fixed.
“It is a frustrating process, especially for someone who has been so intimately involved and so knowledgeable about BREC,” Scheffy says.
“There needs to be a better process.”