What The Hell Happened At The Baton Rouge Metro Council Yesterday?

A meeting of the Baton Rouge Metro Council which was supposed to result in an order allowing the reopening of the bars in East Baton Rouge Parish fell apart yesterday, as a quorum was lost in the middle of the vote to lift restrictions imposed by mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome in line with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ shutdown orders. Nobody seems to have a good handle on why.

The bars opened up last night anyway, because Broome asked the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to allow East Baton Rouge to “opt-in” to bar openings since the parish qualified based on the collapse in COVID-19 case numbers in EBR. And ATC accepted.

According to sources, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome sent a letter to the ATC asking for bars to reopen. After the ATC approved the reopening, the Metro Council held a meeting to vote on the final decision.

7 of the 12 metro council people were present on the call. Six of the members voted Yes and one member abstained. Even though there wasn’t a seven answer vote the Mayor’s Office released a statement stating that the ATC will not rescind the agreement.

Commissioner Legier of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control just informed our office they will continue to recognize the opt-in status for East Baton Rouge Parish, as requested earlier this week by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, saying:

“The agency is comfortable having received the request for opt in from the mayor’s office. The approval will not be rescinded.”

Bars can immediately operate under eased restrictions, as outlined by ATC.

The Metro Council will meet again on Friday.

But technically speaking, the reopening of the bars wouldn’t be completely legal. Parish attorney Andy Dotson said he doesn’t think Broome can reopen the bars on her own without the Metro Council signing off on it with a vote of seven of the 12 members. And they did have that yesterday afternoon.

While the mayor said her office already received approval from the state, the parish attorney argued that the council is the governing body and has sole power to make the call for the parish.

“If the council did not vote to approve, it is the parish attorney’s belief then that there is no authority to reopen the bars,” Parish Attorney Andy Dotson said during the virtual meeting.

The situation was further complicated when the mayor disputed the parish attorney, arguing that she has the power to opt in to reopening bars.

Nobody really cares about the bureaucratic niceties of how people might get the freedom back to conduct normal business, and it’s all likely moot once the Metro Council meets again on Friday.

But it’s worth paying a little bit of attention to what happened at that meeting of the Metro Council.

It was a virtual meeting, meaning that failure to attend it would be a lot less explainable than normal. Just be near a computer with internet and you could be in Ougadougou or Ulaan Bator and still be there.

And yet Chandler Loupe, one of the seven Republicans on the Metro Council and one of the co-sponsors of the measure to reopen the bars, failed to attend.

Ericka Green, one of the five Democrats on the Metro Council, managed to show up. She abstained from the vote, and then she left the meeting, which dissolved it since with her gone they no longer had a quorum.

That meant despite not a single “no” vote, the six Republicans left in the meeting – Denise Amoroso, Matt Watson, Dwight Hudson, Jennifer Racca, Trae Welch and Scott Wilson – were left scratching their heads.

The other four Democrats – Lamont Cole, Chauna Banks, Tara Wicker and Donna Collins-Lewis – all took a powder.

Why would they take a powder, and why would Green sandbag the meeting?

Watson, who is running for Broome’s job and has a decent shot at making the runoff – it’s likely either he or former state representative Steve Carter will earn that spot – had this to say after things fell apart…

The Metropolitan Council held a special meeting to vote to opt in to letting bars open because EBR met the Governor's…

Posted by Matt Watson for East Baton Rouge Parish on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

There are competing theories about this, but they all seem to center around Broome.

One theory is that Broome orchestrated this, so that she would get to claim credit for reopening the bars in Baton Rouge rather than the Metro Council.

She did, after all, jump the gun on the Metro Council’s meeting and announced that she had gone to ATC seeking approval for a reopening. Doing that, and having the black Democrats either skip the meeting or abstain, meant that Watson wouldn’t be able to claim credit for spearheading the effort to get those establishments back in commerce.

But why would Tara Wicker, who was a candidate against Broome until the mayor’s allies got her knocked off the ballot for failure to file her taxes, cooperate at all with a scheme to make Broome look good? Wicker and Watson aren’t particularly the best of friends, so there’s that, but it seems a stretch that Tara would go along with something that made her look like she doesn’t want to do her job.

And that gives rise to another theory, which is that all this was done not to help Broome but to dirty her up. Remember, there’s another black Democrat in the race, and she used to be on the Metro Council. That would be state representative Denise Marcelle, who still has some allies on the Metro Council.

Having them skip that vote and turn the meeting into chaos would accomplish two goals – first, it would deny Watson a chance to look like an effective leader who makes things happen, and second, it would make Broome look like she doesn’t know the law.

If you’re Marcelle, one thing you want to do is to make white liberals, of whom Baton Rouge has a not-insignificant number, not want to vote for Broome. If the white liberals vote for Broome in the primary it’s an advantage Marcelle can’t overcome with her Black Lives Matter crowd voting base. But dirtying her up and making her look ineffective would be a way of getting those white liberals to perhaps land on either Watson or Carter, and with them stripped away Marcelle would then be in a position to compete straight-up against Broome for the 44 percent of the registered EBR voters who are black.

Four years ago Broome managed to beat Marcelle by a 32-13 count in the primary, most of which came courtesy of a big advantage with the black vote. The sense is that has tightened. Broome is still likely to best Marcelle, but the numbers might be closer – and you never know how things might break late.

Of course, if you’re a Republican you’re praying that Denise Marcelle manages to hop over Broome into a runoff with either Watson or Carter, because that’s the scenario in which the GOP is most likely to recapture the mayor-president’s seat in EBR. How likely it is, we can’t really say.

What we can say, though, is yesterday’s stunt – whoever was behind it – was pure idiocy. It’s the kind of thing which demonstrates why so many in Baton Rouge have such complete contempt for the city’s politicians. Clowns like this don’t run America’s Next Great City, as Baton Rouge used to call itself. They run the place into the ground so that it soon looks like Newark or Jackson.



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