Kip Holden: The Man Who Broke Baton Rouge?

An interesting study was released by the Washington Examiner on Monday, under the headline “EXography: 19 U.S. cities have proportionately bigger workforces than bankrupted Detroit.”

The study listed 107 American cities with populations of 200,000 or more by the ratio of residents per local government employee, with Washington, DC sitting atop the heap at only 25 residents per public-sector worker employed by the city. San Francisco was second with 28 residents per employee.

Third?

Baton Rouge.

With a city population of 229,000, the study, which got its numbers from the Census Bureau’s 2011 Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll, found a local government payroll of 7,566 employees.

With an average compensation of $88,900.

What’s mind-boggling is what isn’t included in the census numbers the study was based on…

Remarkably, the Census Bureau excluded from these figures all teachers and education professionals, which make up the largest group of local government employees.

The figures also do not include separate government divisions that comprise significant portions of many urban public workforces, like the 1,200-employee Baltimore City Housing Authority, the 1,000-employee Philadelphia Housing Authority and the 2,300 employee Chicago Park District.

Transit systems, such as the 9,500-worker Chicago Transit Authority and New York’s 7,000-person Port Authority, are also not counted.

That means the most bloated and dysfunctional part of Baton Rouge’s city-parish government structure, namely the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, aren’t even included in that 7,566 employees. The Washington Examiner piece also says the Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission, or BREC, isn’t included. No word on whether CATS is included.

And without counting BREC or the school system, Baton Rouge’s payroll is an astonishing $672,619,536. By comparison, Detroit – with a population of 714,000 – has a payroll of $651,437,244.

Oh – and Atlanta’s payroll is $372 million. St. Louis’ payroll is $601 million. New Orleans is $308 million. Cincinnati is $316 million.

Now, you can criticize the study and say that since Baton Rouge has a city-parish form of government the real population number should be 440,000, which is the population of East Baton Rouge Parish – the 229,000 figure is just the population within the city limits.

OK, fair enough. But if you run the numbers that way you still come up with a ratio of 58 residents per local government employee. And instead of third, Baton Rouge would be 18th out of 107 cities larger than 200,000 people. Detroit’s ratio is 61.

And the cost per employee, at around $89,000 per year, is drastically more than Detroit ($55,941). Or Cincinnati ($56,048). Or New Orleans ($46,791). Or Atlanta ($45,924). Or Kansas City ($53,771).

Did this phenomenon originate with Holden? Probably not. But seeing as though he’s in his ninth year as the Mayor-President in Baton Rouge it’s not like he can declaim responsibility for the bloated public sector in town.

Numbers like that don’t inspire faith in local government. And with the unfolding CATS debacle – yesterday saw the embattled chairman of the CATS board Isaiah Marshall reject calls for his resignation – nobody particularly sees leadership from Holden.

This was his reaction to Marshall’s I-ain’t-going-anywhere diatribe yesterday…

Mayor-President Kip Holden also attended Tuesday’s meeting and called on CATS to demonstrate accountability and “get its house in order.”

Speaking after the meeting, Holden questioned Marshall’s refusal to resign.

“He can’t just gloss this over, knowing full well that there are problems that have to be looked at and also a need to satisfy questions the public still has,” Holden said.

The mayor added that the CATS board has lost the public’s support.

“They’re going to have to do a major public relations job in order to win the public’s confidence again, and it may entail some board members resigning,” Holden said. “I don’t think the public is going to be satisfied with this pace, and I don’t think they’re going to be satisfied until they get some answers.”

Forceful, right?

The Metro Council has the votes right now to remove Marshall, plus his sidekick Dalton Honore II. Holden’s statement, given that, is more or less a show of support for Marshall.

That follows in the wake of what amounted to tacit support of the East Baton Rouge School Board earlier this year as it fought grassroots efforts to create a breakaway school district in the southeastern part of the parish. Those efforts bore partial fruit despite its advocates being called every name in the book – and most notably racists – without so much as a peep out of Holden, whose constituents to this day are still more white than black.

That was a failure of leadership on Holden’s part, and it amounted to his assent as people who are just as much his constituents as the residents of midtown or Scotlandville are were being defamed by public officials.

And now, the people who pushed for that ISD are rethinking this entire debate, with potentially drastic consequences for Holden and the public sector crowd he’s so solicitous of…

What we are offering is the solution. We firmly believe that empowering communities with the ability design a school system that meets the needs of the children of their area is the only way to fix the ongoing failure to meet to meet the basic need of providing a quality public school system.

For far too long we have been getting the short end of the red stick. Be it a new school district, a new city, or a combination of both, we are continuing to work towards the goal of giving the people of this parish the opportunity to hold themselves accountable for the schools in their area.

Word is that the reception to Local Schools for Local Children’s efforts at studying the incorporation of a new city has been a lot more enthusiastic than anyone expected, and the petition for incorporation will be coming shortly.

And word is that once that train gets rolling, it’s going to have a whole lot of passengers on it.

Here’s a map of what’s not incorporated in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, and as such could well be part of a new city as it incorporates…

You’ll notice that new city would include a fairly massive amount of the parish’s wealth and commercial strength. It would include that new L’Auberge Casino, the Mall of Louisiana, the Country Club of Louisiana, Oak Hills Place and Shenandoah, and a lot more. It would also include an awful lot of riverfront property which isn’t currently developed but could be in fairly short order.

In fact, I’m told from a contact within city-parish government that if this new city were to materialize within those borders it would have some 70 percent of the tax base supporting those 7,566 local government employees – and only 30 percent of the costs.

Which would be a nightmare scenario for Holden. It would mean he’s the guy who presided over Baton Rouge proper becoming the next Detroit.

Naturally, the cries of racism would reach the stratosphere should this happen.

But is that what’s at stake?

Southwest Baton Rouge provides probably the largest share of the parish’s tax base, and there isn’t a single public high school in that part of the parish. People who live in the area the new city would comprise are almost forced to put their kids in private schools because EBR is so atrocious, and that works like an additional tax of between $7,000-15,000 per year.

That includes black people, too. There are black middle-class and upper-middle-class folks in Baton Rouge as well, you know, and their economic interests don’t significantly differ from white people of the same economic circumstances.

Given the abject failure to give these people their money’s worth, can anybody really blame them for deciding to go it alone?

I don’t think so. I think if there is to be a New Richmond, or St. George, or whatever else the new city might be called, the blame would fall on a mayor and a political class which ignored its productive class for too long and failed to recognize the door was wide open for them to walk away.

There are consequences to everything. Poor leadership and socialism are not exceptions. That was proven in Detroit, and it appears likely it will be proven in Baton Rouge as well.

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