Metro Council members raising questions over at-large seats

    While mixed in their personal assessments of the concept, Metro Council members are raising questions over a Plan of Government committee recommendation to implement two at-large council seats.

    As is, the proposal would change the makeup of the Metro Council—creating 10 single-member council districts, rather than the current 12—and adding two at-large members. One at-large member would qualify from a citywide residence, while the other would qualify from a parishwide residence, which could include Baton Rouge.

    Both members would need to be elected by a parishwide vote. The mayor pro tem would be selected by the council from one of the two at-large members for a two-year term.

    “It was the best document we could’ve made as a drafting body, but it was a series of compromises,” says councilwoman Barbara Frieberg, who sat on the committee that drafted the document and generally supports the concept of at-large seats. “We have some hurdles we’ll have to manipulate.”

    Those include concerns raised at a recent public meeting, where residents complained there hadn’t been enough time for public input and worried about making a decision before the 2020 census, when district lines are drawn and populations are counted. Questions also circulated about the potential passage of St. George and how its incorporation would affect the proposal.

    Because of these concerns, councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who chaired the Plan of Government committee, says she now believes the item should appear on the fall 2020 ballot—in which case, the at-large seats, if passed, wouldn’t take effect until 2024.

    Though also supportive of the idea, Collins-Lewis says she doesn’t like how both at-large seats would be elected by a parishwide vote. In her opinion, the member representing the city should be elected by a citywide vote.

    However, councilman Matt Watson says there shouldn’t be any distinction in the first place.

    “It seems disingenuous to call them at-large, but give them some sort of geography as far as a district goes,” he says. “It should also be key that no immediate councilmember should be able to run in 2020.”

    Councilman Trae Welch, while reserving his judgment, says that “having an even number of single-member districts is a bad idea.” He also worries about potential supermajorities in densely populated districts. Meanwhile, councilman Lamont Cole says he’s waiting for public feedback before making comments.

    Councilmembers Denise Amoroso, Chauna Banks, Erika Green, Dwight Hudson, Tara Wicker and Scott Wilson did not respond to requests for comment.

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