Mayor Sharon Weston Broome: On the issues
photography by Don Kadair
Business Report sat down with Mayor Sharon Weston Broome for a lengthy interview in late January. Here are some of the highlights of her views on the issues, condensed and edited for space.
Planning and smart growth:
I plan to have someone in my administration who is focused on smart growth. I look forward to having conversations with the Growth Coalition and folks like the Center for Planning Excellence to develop a philosophy of growth and development that doesn’t dilute the strength of neighborhoods. But citizen input is always welcomed. I bring the people to the table who are committed to finding a common goal that moves us forward. Sometimes that may start off with conflict, but ultimately my goal is consensus.
I plan to convene a meeting with the folks from Baton Rouge that are on the recovery task force. Baton Rouge has to be assertive and aggressive in terms of making sure that our voice is heard, and that we are able to secure the federal dollars that we need to rebuild and restore our community. I’m very excited to have Rowdy Gaudet, who has been working as chief of staff for the state’s Disaster Recovery Unit, as one of my assistant chief administrative officers and I expect him to take a leadership role in the recovery process.
Speeding up building inspections and permitting:
I’m certainly open to creative ideas to move it forward. I’m hearing that there’s a need for upgrading the department technology. Staffing also is a challenge.
On her relationship with the police union:
Hopefully, they will understand that my ultimate goal is public safety. I certainly believe they should be paid for the job that they do, and not have to have three and four jobs to make ends meet. I believe that takes away from their effectiveness as a police officer.
Replacing the police chief:
My desire to change the police chief is motivated by the gap that we have between our police department and the citizens they serve. Especially after the Alton Sterling case, the trust in the police department really diminished. For our community to re-establish trust, I believe it’s necessary to make a change at the top.
Opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses to get city-parish work:
I want to make sure that opportunities are equitable, that people know about opportunities, and that we have training, workshops and seminars so people know what they need to do to get engaged. I can’t guarantee the outcomes, but I certainly can motivate the access. Post-flood, I want to see local businesses involved in the restoration and recovery of our parish. There has to be an advocate for small businesses in our community, and I want to be that advocate.
I’ve talked about the airport Aviation Business Park as far as being one part of an economic anchor for north Baton Rouge. I am a big advocate for more flights. If we improve the number of flights that go in and out of Baton Rouge, that certainly is a jobs stimulus.
Raising the minimum wage in Baton Rouge:
Increasing the minimum wage is a tool for lifting families out of poverty. I’m committed to working with the business community to see how we can do that. But my first stop is working to improve the incomes of city-parish workers, such as police officers, firefighters and public works employees. It’s a process. I do have some specific numbers in mind, but I’m not going to say right now.
Whether the Baton Rouge Zoo can succeed at its current location:
I believe that we have not exercised due diligence in looking at other opportunities with the zoo’s present location. I believe it’s important to consider the option of leaving the zoo in its place, but enhancing the zoo. The zoo needs attention; that’s the bottom line.
Her role in education:
While I am not the superintendent, I certainly will be the advocate-in-chief for helping to empower education in our community. I’m going to bring folks from Southern, LSU and BRCC to look at early childhood development, including the Head Start program—which I do have authority over—to see how we can adjust it to make sure that we are providing the best services for parents once the child is born. That might also mean bringing people to the table, like Woman’s Hospital, who are on the front line.
The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority:
I believe the city-parish should give the RDA consistent funding, because they play a significant role in community development and blight removal. But how do we leverage our assets to get the maximum results? The first step has to be collaboration between the RDA and the Office of Community Development, and maybe the Housing Authority.
The proposed tram between LSU and downtown:
I have in the past supported the tram, but the tram is not getting as much traction these days for a lot of reasons, including funding. The top priority is overall connectivity, focusing on the parish transportation plan and making sure that public transportation is a viable alternative for everyone in this community.
The potential incorporation of St. George:
I am opposed to anyone who wants to divide this city and this parish. I am in support of keeping our community together and not creating these walls of division.
Proving she is pro-business:
I want to give people more reasons to love Baton Rouge, and that means we have even a stronger diversified, creative and growing economy. Job creation and innovation is an integral part of our city’s growth. I’m for the businessman just as I am for the middle-class working person. I am the mayor for everyone in this city and parish, and I recognize what it takes to keep a city running. I can’t move this city forward without partnerships. We can’t live in silos.