Last month my wife and I enjoyed a special evening on what used to be the old City Dock at the Water Campus on the Mississippi River. This has been transformed into a very unique place, as you can now stand over the water next to the bridge, looking back at the lights of the downtown skyline. We were there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Plan Baton Rouge and all that has been accomplished. It was a dream come true to see people dancing on the dock to the music, when just a couple years ago it was a rusty relic and eyesore at the gateway to our capital city. Now, the spectacular Water Institute glows at night like a lantern on the levee welcoming all travelers.
Andres Duany, who led the first charrette that produced this vision for downtown 20 years ago, was back in Baton Rouge for the evening. In our recent cover story on Plan Baton Rouge and its process and vision, Duany said, “Average citizens came up with the ideas and solutions for this plan. I would tell your community leaders, ‘Listen to your people. They have good ideas.’ I wasn’t sitting there having all these genius insights come to me out of the blue. The people of Baton Rouge were bringing the ideas to me.”
He told me that night there were creative local people who had great ideas, but nobody would listen to them. He said he took the best ideas, put them together and presented them with authority. (He was not shy from being brutally honest and forthright in his views.) He also said something profound to the crowd. “The progress you have made has been more than in other cities—but it took longer,” he said.
I was curious about that comment and asked him what he attributed that to. He told me he had recently been to Cuba, where there are serious consequences if you speak your mind and express your ideas (like going to prison). But he realized that, here in America, we all have the freedom to speak up, and share ideas and opinions—and the worst that happens is you upset a few people. They get over it. He said people should be more willing to be bold, speak their minds and share ideas. We all benefit.
That is why we can’t accept the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it before.” It holds us back and slows our progress. The status quo may have worked in the past, but with the pace of change today, there are great risks with being slow. The next “20 years” of change will happen in 10. It is time for us all to pick up the pace, speak up and lead.
The current legislative session and the lack of options with the state budget makes the best case for a constitutional convention. We all know that Louisiana usually doesn’t change until our backs are against the wall. Well, we know that to “keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results is the definition of insanity.” So let’s stop.
Our constitution was last revised in 1974—44 years ago. It has almost 200 amendments now, the most of any state in the nation—and that’s not a good thing. It’s time to reset for the future.
This should be a campaign issue in 2019 and all candidates should be asked, “Will you support a convention and let all the delegates be elected by the people?”
Waiting for justice
It has been said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” That is ironic when the process of investigating Mike Erwin, a Baton Rouge state district court judge, falls on the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which can investigate judges. They have been conducting an investigation of Erwin for more than a year now. A complaint was filed about his conduct and comments made in a local bar to an African-American woman, who claims he twice called her the “N-word.” The judge, bound by Canons in the Code of Judicial Conduct, denied it.
The commission is supposed to discover the truth and provide justice. I made calls to the Judiciary Commission for an answer regarding their progress, but my calls were not returned by press time.
So, where is their decision? Is this due process or justice denied? Can we trust our judges to judge their own? Let’s sure hope so.
Raising the bar
A Basis Charter school will open this fall in Baton Rouge. They have teamed up with Woman’s Hospital and have the potential to be one of the best schools in our parish and even state. I know that is the goal of Basis, because being the best is what they have become used to doing.
U.S. News & World Report announced its 2018 Best High Schools in America after collecting data on 22,000 schools. Among the top 10, Basis schools were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8. That’s six of the top 10. Amazing.
It is exciting to see this type of quality opportunity offered to parents and students in EBR as a free public school. It is hard to imagine that so many school board members, legislators and governors have fought against school choice and charters over decades. And we wonder why we rank at the bottom?
Following the signs
After my recent editorial on blight, trash and ugly signs (“Enough of the trash talking Baton Rouge,” March 27), I heard from many in support of cleaning up our community and disgusted with the trash, ugly streets and signage.
As I said, the new law calls for a $200 fine or more, for every illegal sign put out. The business that pays for them is responsible for where they are placed. And public property or poles are illegal—and that includes public medians, intersection corners and servitudes between the utility poles and the road in front of a business or shopping center. (If you don’t own the land, don’t put a sign on it.)
I got an interesting call from a friend, who makes it her mission to clean up “trash” (illegal signs), just like she would pick up litter on the sidewalk. She said she called a few of the numbers listed on the signs, which all had a 225 area code to appear “local.” First was a Baton Rouge resident, and his sign was “Get more leads.” He said he didn’t know of the law and apologized, adding he would pick them up. The second was for “Power washing,” and he was from Houma. He, too, said he was unaware of the law or possible fines and would also pick his signs up.
The third was “We buy houses.” He was from Lafayette and said he hired folks to put them out all over town. He asked what area she lived in? When she told him, he said, “Ok, I will come pick those up.” He just didn’t get it. PICK THEM ALL UP!
How do you feel about those from out-of-town coming to Baton Rouge to trash our city for cash? It makes me mad. But no more mad than I am at the local residents doing it too. Some get angry when told of the new law and think they have a right to trash our public property for their personal gain—and refuse to clean up their mess. I say “drop the hammer” and fine them big for littering.
I am hearing that it may require a law enforcement officer to enforce and write citations, and with the shortage of officers that is unlikely. But why not create a cadet position and hire young people to enforce litter and sign ordinances, generating funds and cleaning up Baton Rouge. (Like the old “meter maid” who had no gun but wrote citations for parking violations.) Then officers could spend their time fighting crime, while these laws are still enforced. Why do we pass laws if they won’t be enforced and will make no difference?