Counterpoint: Together Baton Rouge is about division

FINAL STRAW: Together Baton Rouge’s opposition to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program prompted Eddie Rispone to launch his own nonprofit, one, he says, promotes a stronger working and middle class through family structure. (Photo by Collin Richie)

When Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone formed the nonprofit organization Baton Rouge Families First in early January, he said the purpose of the group was to empower lower and middle-income families in Baton Rouge by “encouraging education reform, promoting quality jobs through proactive economic development, and supporting initiatives that strengthen the family structure.”

But BRFF’s first outreach effort was a five-minute video posted on social media that takes direct aim at the broad based community organization Together Baton Rouge, questioning the group’s motives, tactics and affiliation with the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation, a nationwide network of community organizations.

“If Together Baton Rouge truly wants to help families you would think they would be working with their ally religious leaders in educating congregants about morals, virtues, independence and family life—the bedrock of a sound society,” the video says. “Instead it seems to many Together Baton Rouge would rather divide the city using socialist, radical tactics and pushing a national agenda.”

Rispone, founder and CEO of the industrial services firm ISC Constructors, has had problems with TBR since the group’s early years. He was against the first big issue TBR pushed, the dedicated tax to fund the Capital Area Transit System.

He also took issue with TBR’s opposition to the city of St. George incorporation effort, of which he was an advocate and supporter.

“Together Baton Rouge opposed a group of parents trying to get a better education for their children,” he says. “It might have been called St. George, but it was really about giving children a better education.”

Rispone was further bothered to learn that his church, St. George Catholic Church, was a member of TBR. He says he doesn’t think his pastor or some of the congregation understand TBR or what it stands for.

But it wasn’t until TBR took on the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program in 2016 that Rispone decided to do something about the group. ISC Constructors is a beneficiary of tax exemption, but Rispone says he wasn’t so much concerned about the tax break for his company. Rather, he believes in the value of the incentive in keeping the Louisiana economy thriving.

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“I grew up in north Baton Rouge and I know how important the Exxons and Dows and Standard Oils are to creating jobs for our people,” he says. “And Together Baton Rouge is attacking this program that has created those jobs, so I thought I needed to do something to explain this to the public.”

TBR has argued in its critique of the ITEP that the program has not created nearly as many jobs as companies have promised, while depriving local governments of revenues that would pay for badly needed social services and public education.

Rispone says BRFF is about more than just going after TBR, and he promises the group will support programs and policies that promote the traditional family structure, and will attack any group that does not.  For now, though, only TBR is in its crosshairs.

“They are missing what is a major issue today in the U.S. and Baton Rouge—the breakup of the family,” he says. “If they really want to improve society that should be on their agenda.”

For its part, TBR says it welcomes an opportunity to meet with Rispone and show him on how many issues the two groups actually agree.

“It looks like we share a lot of the same goals and values,” says Rev. Steve Crump, pastor of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge and a member of TBR’s executive committee. “We’d like to sit down with Mr. Rispone to discuss his perceptions of Together Baton Rouge. My guess is, if he takes a look at who we are and what we do, he might come to see us differently.”

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