‘Business Report’ publisher: Will Baton Rouge ever learn to embrace change?

    With the Metro Council scheduled to discuss several key changes to the city-parish form of government this afternoon, Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister wonders in his latest column if Baton Rouge leaders will have the courage to embrace change—or will they once again let an opportunity pass us by.

    Failing to take advantage of opportunities is something of a hallmark for Baton Rouge, because, as McCollister writes, it has stuck with the status quo, fueled by small-minded, small-town thinking. Our aversion to change and risk has both hurt us badly and held us back.

    Most notable, during the early days of the Mayor Tom Ed McHugh administration, Baton Rouge had the chance to hire nationally-recognized city manager Ted Gaebler. McHugh, however, balked at Gaebler’s $80,000 a year salary request and would only agree to hire him as a short-time consultant. Even worse, Baton Rouge largely ignored every recommendation Gaebler put forth.

    The rest of the story is Gaebler went on to turn around several other cities before authoring the internationally best-selling book “Reinventing Government.”

     Think about this mistake from 30 years ago as the Metro Council begins its discussions, most notably on 1) creating two at-large council seats, elected parishwide, along with 10 single-member districts and 2) reclassifying the chief administrative officer position to become a professional “city manager.”

    At-large members, like the mayor-president, have a broader perspective than single district members. The current proposal calls for one at-large member to be a resident of incorporated Baton Rouge while the other can reside anywhere in the parish.

    As for city manager, some wonder why we need a highly paid person doing the job of the mayor-president? That is stupid. Baton Rouge isn’t Bunkie (no offense to Bunkie.) There are around 4,500 city-parish employees in EBR and the budget approaches $1 billion. Do you think a CEO of such an enterprise handles the day-to-day management of operations? That’s absurd.

    McCollister worries the result from tonight’s council meeting and this committee report will be that nothing changes. 

    Also in his column, McCollister addresses the Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election strategies.  According to a news story and a press release show the governor is basically using tax dollars and a freeze on higher education fees as part of his reelection campaign.  

    The Advocate article stated, “The Louisiana Department of Health has temporarily suspended a feather of its new eligibility system that automatically kicked people off the Medicaid rolls if they did not respond to requests for annual renewal information.” This will keep 75,000 people from losing coverage immediately. (How many of those will vote this fall?) Read the McCollister’s full column. Send comments to editor@businessreport.com.  

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