They say, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” As I wrote in my last editorial, the world is not remaining the same and the times are a-changin’ at a rapid pace, whether we like it or not. But will our East Baton Rouge city-parish politics and vision for our plan of government be the exception?
We have missed opportunities before and 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. As we consider changes to our plan of government on Aug. 14 at the Metro Council, will we make the same mistakes and put parochial politics ahead of professional management and progress?
A couple of issues the Metro Council will discuss are 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.
There are well-paid professionals who managed cities as the job is becoming more complex, and mistakes can be costly to taxpayers. This isn’t the business for the timid or inexperienced—and we have witnessed mistakes for decades in Baton Rouge due to lack of experience and on-the-job training. We tend to just keep doing things “the way we’ve always done them before.” I worry that will be the discussion and result we see from Wednesday’s council meeting and this committee report. Nothing changes.
And if anything does change, it will happen on “BR time” and take years. The chairwoman of the Plan of Government committee, councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, is already saying it should go on the fall 2020 ballot with structural changes not happening until 2024. Why? If it is a good idea, put it
before voters in the spring and, if approved, candidates could run in the fall and we begin in January 2021. Why wait if voters approve? It’s their choice and their plan of government.
This is the kind of slow, status quo thinking that has held us back—and only fuels a St. George movement.
This lack of vision has been around awhile, which I have spoken of before—and I do not want to repeat the mistakes from history for the benefit of this mayor and council.
Tom Ed McHugh had just been elected in 1988. Ted Gaebler, a professional city manager, was invited to visit the mayor. Years before he had been featured on the cover of Inc. magazine for leading “The Most Entrepreneurial City in America.”
McHugh had been a member of the Metro Council representing Zachary and was over transportation for the EBR school system. He needed help “running a major city.” As I recall, Gaebler offered to move to Baton Rouge as CAO for $80,000 a year. The mayor balked because his own salary was just $74,000 at the time. McHugh was shortsighted and failed to see the vision and experience that Gaebler had—and which he lacked. Instead, McHugh hired him to consult for six months.
Gaebler assessed all that needed to be changed at City Hall after meeting with all the department heads and Metro Council, as well as talking with staff and others. But when it came time to implement, McHugh didn’t hire him. McHugh was cheap and weak, and thought he could execute the changes on his own. He was wrong. The reorganization plan, according to one of McHugh’s former assistant chief administration officers, was never implemented.
“Nothing changed,” this staffer told me after McHugh’s 12 years. “The biggest mistake we made was not hiring Ted Gaebler.”
Instead, McHugh ended up hiring his former boss as CAO, Graydon Walker, assistant superintendent of the EBR school system. He too lacked city experience, brought no new ideas and little energy or leadership.
The status quo remained. The evidence that McHugh made a huge mistake and BR missed a golden opportunity came when
Gaebler co-authored the international best-selling book
“Reinventing Government” in 1992.
If one does not even know what a city manager is, read Gaebler’s bio and then think about what kind of Capital City we would live in today if McHugh had the vision and guts to have hired him 30 years ago (What an investment for $80,000.)
His bio says, “Ted Gaebler is an internationally recognized authority on new approaches to government issues and is a leader in setting the stage for change … he has been changing governments for more than 40 years. Making governments better—not ‘just managing’—has consistently motivated Mr. Gaebler. Through his roles as County Executive Officer, City Manager, teacher, and mentor, he has been acknowledged as a revolutionary ‘reinventor’ and ‘public entrepreneur,’ changing governments peacefully from the inside out.
“He led the new City of Rancho Cordova to become an All-America City in 2010, and to become No.12 in Fortune magazine’s 2011 and 2012 Great Places to Work list (the first city government to ever make the list).”
So does this sound like anyone we have in our city-parish government today—or had in the past? We need to change the plan of government and do it now—not wait. We have made plenty of mistakes and resisted change. If we fail to learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it—and we will pay the price for another 30 years.
Gov. Edwards election politics is obvious
A recent news story and a press release show the governor is basically using your tax dollars and a freeze on fees as part of his reelection campaign. I guess some might claim that’s good politics—or a bait and switch like he did on raising taxes.
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?)
They say they are doing it “amid a heightened workload for staffers processing calls.” Right.
In regards to raising fees at four-year colleges and universities, Edwards made sure it will only happen after the election. The Democratic Governor’s Association sent out a press release last week applauding Gov. Edwards and the fact that there are no fee increases this fall in Louisiana for college students. Surprise.
Of course this wasn’t for a lack of need on college campuses—which the governor brags on TV as saying universities were fully funded in the state budget. Really? Ask the universities. Did you know that LSU’s mandated pension contribution represents 60% of LSU’s state funding? Other campuses deal with the same issue.
The governor was elected to run the state, not the universities and interfere with their operations—especially around election time.