Heck Blows Up Baton Rouge Historical Preservation Commission Members

The e-mail thread reprinted below, which was forwarded to us as well as a few other members of the media in Baton Rouge, makes for one of the more entertaining reads you’ll run across.

There is some real, visceral hatred here. And it comes through with unmistakable clarity as the thread progresses.

We’ll need to set this up, though. What’s at issue in this e-mail thread is the decision by the Baton Rouge Historical Preservation Commission to place its designation of landmark status on the old Baton Rouge Savings and Loan Association building on North Boulevard – a soul-crushing, Soviet-inspired mid-20th century concrete turd which looks something like a parking garage without any cars.

The building is so ugly it can’t even secure tenants, and over the past several years it almost always has a “For Lease” sign out front. Even the plaintiff and criminal defense attorneys who populate that area near to both the City Court and the 19th Judicial District court won’t put their clients through the experience of darkening the doors of that house of horrors.

In case you’re not aware of where this building is or you’re not that familiar with Baton Rouge, we present the “landmark” in question (and no, we’re not responsible for any eye injuries which may result)…

That building was recommended for the National Register of Historic Places. So far as we know no famous drunks drowned in their own vomit in there, and no blues men of renown were conceived in any of the bathrooms. Its owner, Bob Dean – who has a track record of leveraging historic preservation entities for his own personal benefit (which is not a criticism; that’s what real estate developers in downtowns tend to do) – put it up for the commission’s action. And Tuesday, there was action.

From: Carolyn Bennett
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 3:21 PM
To: Metro Council Internet E-mail; Casey Cashio; Dennis Mccain
Cc: Ana Forbes; Bill Huey ; Carolyn Bennett; Jael Gordon; John Sykes; William Fontenot
Subject: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning. Please join us if you are able.

AGENDA
HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION MEETING October 23, 2013
8:30 A.M.
ALL ITEMS ON THE ATTACHED AGENDA ARE PUBLIC HEARINGS The rules for conducting such public hearings are as follows.
1. Applicant and applicant representatives for the proposal will speak first for a period not to exceed fifteen (15) minutes.
2. Proponents will speak, then the opponents. Each speaker will not be allowed more than three (3) minutes. The speakers are requested to limit their remarks and to avoid duplication in their presentations.
3. Applicant will be allowed a total period of five (5) minutes for rebuttal.

1. ROLL CALL
2. APPROVAL OF THE MINUTES (August 21, 2013; September 18, 2013; and October
3, 2013 Special Meeting) 3. STAFF REPORTS AND UPDATES 4. HPC-13-13 (805 Spanish Town Road) 5. CHAIR’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS 6. DISCUSSION OF COA PROCEDURE 7. PRESENTATION OF LANDMARKS CRITERIA 8. DISCUSSION OF NOMINATING COMMITTEE 9. CONSIDERATION OF NATIONAL REGISTER NOMINATION OF THE BATON ROUGE SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATION BUILDING, 400 NORTH BOULEVARD 10.
ADJOURN

And all hell broke loose on lots of e-mails as a result. We present to you sausage-making, Capitol City style (with only the e-mail addresses removed)…

From: Ryan Heck (District 11)
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:53 AM
To: Carolyn Bennett; Metro Council Internet E-mail; Casey Cashio; Dennis Mccain
Cc: Ana Forbes; Bill Huey ; Jael Gordon; John Sykes; William Fontenot
Subject: RE: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning. Please join us if you are able.

Ms Bennett,

Item 9 on the HPC agenda today. It’s my understanding that both the City/Parish and the 19th JDC have conceptual plans to demolish this building for alternative uses. I’d hate to see your organization go through the work required to nominate this building for the National Register only to have it come down in a few years.

Have a great week!

A response…

From: Bill Huey
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:12 AM
To: Ryan Heck (District 11); ‘Carolyn Bennett’; Metro Council Internet
E-mail; Casey Cashio; Dennis Mccain
Cc: ‘Ana Forbes’; ‘Jael Gordon’; ‘John Sykes’; ‘William Fontenot’
Subject: RE: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning. Please join us if you are able.

Thank you for your concern, councilman. For the record, the HPC didn’t nominate this building, the private owner of the building did.

As a recognized CLG (for now), we were simply asked to comment by the state National Register organization–one of our duties under the state enabling legislation you are attempting to set aside.

That’s what we do, you see. Try to preserve landmarks that developers want to knock down to lavish on new government projects.

I thought you were for ‘efficient government.’ Government building sprawl for a city of only slightly more than 200,000 doesn’t seem efficient at all.

Bill Huey
HPC Commissioner

Another Metro Councilman pokes his nose in…

From: John Delgado (DISTRICT 12)
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:31 AM
To: Bill Huey; Ryan Heck (District 11); Carolyn Bennett; Metro Council Internet E-mail; Casey Cashio; Dennis Mccain
Cc: ‘Ana Forbes’; ‘Jael Gordon’; ‘John Sykes’; ‘William Fontenot’
Subject: Re: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning. Please join us if you are able.

Bill,

I’m very concerned that providing this building with “historic” status will make it very difficult to redevelop it, and impossible to tear it down and replace it with a functioning building (like a parking garage for the 19th
JDC).   Is the HPC going to recommend in favor of this designation?

JMD

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

To which the HPC responded…

From: Carolyn Bennett
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:52 AM
To: John Delgado (DISTRICT 12); Bill Huey; Ryan Heck (District 11); Metro
Council Internet E-mail; Casey Cashio; Dennis Mccain
Cc: ‘Ana Forbes’; ‘Jael Gordon’; ‘John Sykes’; ‘William Fontenot’; David Jacobs
Subject: RE: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning.  Please join us if you are able.

Councilman Delgado,

Good morning!  Thank you for your email.

The HPC did  recommend that the Baton Rouge Savings and Loan Association be listed on the National Register of Historic Places at its meeting today.

This is a prestigious and honorary designation that does not ultimately prevent demolition.  This National Register listing will confer the ability to take advantage of federal tax credits in the amount of 20% of allowable rehabilitation costs for a developer.  The historic STATE tax credits (25%) are already in place since the building is in a Downtown Development District.

The HPC has received no information or conceptual plans from the 19th JDC or City Parish on this building.  I am attaching the full nomination so you might review the ownership and architectural firm involved.

This nomination process originated from the State Historic Preservation Office, National Register Coordinator.  It would move forward through the nomination process to what is the Department of the Interior’s decision with or without HDC’s comment either,  in favor or not in favor. It is a responsibility as a Certified Local Government (CLG) that we as the HPC review National Register nominations of properties within our community.

The HPC carried out this responsibility this morning at our meeting.

If you have any other questions about this, please contact me.

Carolyn Bennett

Heck was not amused…

From: Ryan Heck (District 11)
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 1:53 PM
To: Carolyn Bennett
Subject: RE: Attached and below is the Historic Preservation Commission Agenda for tomorrow morning. Please join us if you are able.

Ms. Carolyn,

If I do not hear back from you by the end of this week re: my last email to you requesting Mr Scribers (or the appropriate legal counsel) opinion on the CLG status, I will assume that you have no further comment and I will put my draft into final status and submit as an item for public discussion and council action in November.

I hope to hear from you soon.  Good job on the 400 North Blvd property.  If that’s what the property owner wants, then I’m with you 100%.  If a potential buyer wants to buy the property at a later date, they’ll have to deal with it.  Likely a very smart and shrewd move on behalf of Bob Dean. Admirable.

Concerning the ordinance change, I would hope your group would be in SUPPORT of my ordinance as this would be an excellent opportunity for your group to forge new, improved relationships with the PAO and PC.  I give you my word that we will use this one year period in an attempt to significantly IMPROVE the HPC with your groups input being a very important component of the study.

If your group doesn’t get on-board, I’m afraid my council colleagues and I will be looking for additional measures to ensure that all three groups are working together more amicably.  I hope you beleive me when I say I have MORE than enough support on the council on this issue, despite your best lobbying efforts to the contrary.  It won’t be close.

FWIW, I don’t expect to see this email in the Business Report, NOLA.com or The Advocate, but that’s up to you.

Things begin to get huffy…

From: Carolyn Bennett
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 2:47 PM
To: Ryan Heck (District 11)
Cc: Ana Forbes; Bill Huey ; Carolyn Bennett; Jael Gordon; John Sykes; William Fontenot
Subject: EBR Historic Preservation Commission

Dear Ryan,

Good afternoon!

This is to acknowledge receipt of your email below and let all HPC Commissioners know of its content.  I will be writing you on behalf of the HPC prior to the end of day this Friday.

Question:  Your statement:    “Concerning the ordinance change, I would hope your group would be in SUPPORT of my ordinance . . .”      Please clarify. Are you sponsoring a resolution or making changes to the existing 2011 ordinance?

Ryan,  why is it up to me if this email is  in these journals?

Matt Watson, your attending staff member, probably did tell you that David Jacobs of the BRBR also attended our HPC meeting this morning.

I will look for you at Metro-Council today.

Carolyn Bennett

The back-and-forth continues…

From: Ryan Heck (District 11)
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 4:09 PM
To: Carolyn Bennett
Cc: Ana Forbes; Bill Huey ; Jael Gordon; John Sykes; William Fontenot
Subject: RE: EBR Historic Preservation Commission

I’m not clear on the technical term whether it would be a temp change to the ordinance or just a simple resolution.  I’d have to ask the PAO.  Either way, I just want to stress that it is a 1 yr suspension.

While all these emails are public record, I’m not sending them to the media, as someone in your group has done in the past with our correspondence.

Huffy turns to chippy…

From: Bill Huey
Sent: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 5:06 PM
To: Ryan Heck (District 11); ‘Carolyn Bennett’
Cc: ‘Ana Forbes’; ‘Jael Gordon’; ‘John Sykes’; ‘William Fontenot’
Subject: RE: EBR Historic Preservation Commission

As you note, councilman, these e-mails are public record. Something wrong with sending them to the media as background for a richer, more factual story? After all, you have had plenty of media access and opportunity to express your opinion by virtue of your office and your resolution-making activity. The public deserves to learn as much as possible about both sides of this debate.

Bill Huey
HPC Member

And then came the coup de grace…

From: Ryan Heck (District 11)
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:22 AM
To: Bill Huey
Cc: [Stephanie Riegel of the Baton Rouge Business Report]; [Rebekah Allen of the Baton Rouge Advocate]; David Samuels of the Times-Picayune]; Metro Council Members
Subject: RE: EBR Historic Preservation Commission

Bill, you make me smile.

Feel free to send this to any media outlet you choose, but please allow me to beat you to the punch.

Via this email, I am publicly calling for the resignation of yourself, John Sykes, and Carolyn Bennett from the Historic Preservation Commission.

Let me tell you, comments such as “That’s what we do, you see. Try to preserve landmarks that developers want to knock down to lavish on new government projects.  I thought you were for ‘efficient government.’  Government building sprawl for a city of only slightly more than 200,000 doesn’t seem efficient at all.” just helps me make the argument that you, among others on the HPC, really do have an unhealthy agenda that is not productive to the true mission of the HPC.

I look forward to hearing about the potentially unlawful meeting that took place without proper public notice this AM.  Please note that the council has subpoena powers and perjury is a very serious offense.  Your group has been warned twice by the Parish Attorney’s Office about holding public meetings that are illegal, and I have been told that your group did it again this AM by several sources within government.  While you and your colleagues may not take this legal requirement seriously, I assure you that the Metro Council does.  I myself mentioned to your group in an email last week that you should follow the laws concerning public meeting requirements.  They are very simple.  24 hour notice MUST be given and properly advertised in order for any official business to take place by a lawful committee of the EBR Metro Council.  I hope that the information I’ve received concerning this meeting is incorrect.

You see Bill, there really isn’t anything wrong with the ordinance governing the HPC.  There’s no absolute need to remove the COA power from the HPC.  If you three clowns weren’t on the HPC, granting favors to friends and punishing those you don’t like, there would be no issue.  But the fact of the matter is YOU are the problem.  And you’re too blind to see it.

Bill, I can write this email because I really don’t care about being a politician.  It’s not my career.  I’m okay.  I’ll be fine.  I don’t need a city or state retirement.  I ran for this office because I was sick and tired of people like you getting in the way of reasonable people’s desire to just do business and be left alone by government as much as possible.  You are correct; for the next 38 months, I have the bully pulpit, and I intend to use it.

How’s that for a richer, more factual story?

Have a wonderful week!

And here you thought things like historic preservation were boring. Certainly not in Louisiana – we can make anything political a donnybrook!

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