Budget Watch: EBR Parish Sunday, Apr 11 2010 

 

Interpreting the East Baton Rouge Parish city budget is challenging and time-consuming.  This 485 page read is no J. K. Rowling novel, and I think it is safe to say that few have read it in its entirety.

The most important part of the city parish budget is the organizational chart showing the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish at the top.  As a resident and taxpayer, you are the one that the top three entities report to, which include:  the Mayor-President, the Metro Council and the Judicial Branch.  These are elected officials who are sworn in to office, and serve at your pleasure.

Next are the vision and mission statements, emphasis, goals, strategic initiatives, and budget process.  Then, we get into the real meat of the budget with detailed charts, graphs and financial reports indicating the sources of income and how dollars your tax dollars are spent. 

The general fund consists of 40% of the city parish budget.  This is signficant since 78.8% of that income depends upon taxes including sales and use tax, property taxes, gross receipts tax and other taxes including gaming proceeds.  The report indicates a $5 million reduction in business taxes, licenses and permits and interest rates.  This budget presentation comes from the same individuals who informed us the recession was not affecting the Red Stick.

Mayor-President Kip Holden joined hands with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) to the tune of $500,000 annually for economic development services for the Red Stick.  Each year the annual Canvas Trip is made by community leaders and politicians to cities that Holden and BRAC feel we should pattern ourselves after.  A puzzling addition to the budget is an additional $150,000 in business development support.  This is cause for concern since taxpayers were told that the contract with BRAC would replace any need for city-parish spending  or increase in services and manpower towards economic development.

When comparing the budget and planning process of the cities we have visited to the EBRP budget, some enlightening facts are revealed.  For instance, the city of Austin, hailed as the most desired city to pattern the Red Stick after indicates some progressive budgetary moves.

Austin indicates a major reduction in their annual budget for 2010 as well as a major change in 2009 indicating all city merit raises decreased from 4% to 2.5%.  There is a lesson to be learned here from a city we hold in high regard.

No salary increases for civil employees in 2010 and suspension of service incentive pay are also shown on Austin’s budget.  Additionally, cuts were made in their general fund including deferred contractual salary increases for police and EMS, eliminating vacant positions permanently, reducing overtime budgets, and adding gate fees for city-wide festivals.  Austin’s budget indicates a reserve of 11% compared to less than half of that reserve for the Red Stick.

More importantly is the involvement of Austin’s community in the budgetary process including transparency and collaboration.  Austin holds citizen focus groups, town halls, teen town halls, taxpayer surveys, a budget hotline and email program to make recommendations or question budgetary concerns. 

Additionally, Austin has implemented a Dollars & Sense employee input program including those who are not department heads or supervisors.  The EBRP budget indicates the only input that is allowed is the Mayor, the Chief Administrative Officer, Metro Council and department heads.  It begs the question.

Ultimately Austin’s goal is to be the “most livable city” in the country.  Nashville, seems to get it as well with beginning their entire process by referring to their metro city budget as The Citizens BudgetRefreshing.

Back at the ranch, EBRP’s budget has some major concerns for citizens to consider including the vast list of consultants which comprises 19.4% of expenditures.  It appears that consultant fees total $54 million.  Wow!

Mayor-President Kip Holden is also banking that our citizens will pay a visit to dump their hard-earned dollars at our two downtown casinos proven by the projected increase in revenue by an additional million dollars for the general fund.  I do not think you will find anyone who believes this will  improve our quality of life in the Red Stick.  Banking on the gaming addictions of our citizens is a bad move.

Increased spending is projected for a 10% increase in health care for city-parish employees, a $100,000 expenditure to ensure our local census is accurate, and a mirage of additional projects.  We have nearly $3 million allotted for EBRP vehicle purchases. 

We spend $340,000 on what is referred to as quality of life issues including fairs and festivals.  We also spend an additional $61,000 on hosting the bowling congress.  I wasn’t aware that improved our quality of life in EBRP.  In comparison, we give only $23,000 to the local Food Bank.

In 2009 we purchased a helicopter for the Baton Rouge Police Department vs. more boots on the ground.  I suppose that compares to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who criticized former Sheriff Greg Phares for the purchase of a boat, purchasing a second boat which rumor has it was named after Gautreaux’s wife.  I guess that indicates Gautreaux’s attack was nothing more than a political public relations campaign.

As I began, the 485-page budget is an interesting read, yet a handful of taxpayers will take the time to peruse it and understand the spending mentality of Mayor-President Kip Holden.  One recommendation is that every consultant contract be identified; some departments detail the companies involved, others provide no details.

Ultimately, we need to look hard at our spending.  Carl Redmond of The Advocate might be better served to study the budget and investigate the mirage of consultants and their ties to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

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Mayor Holden Breaks Another Promise Wednesday, Jan 13 2010 

Update:  The study Mayor Holden said would not take place, did and has been released! 

The most interesting aspect of the study includes the list of items that your tax dollars via the City of Baton Rouge plan to fund.  That list includes:

  • Redesign of the Central Green
    • Programming Study
    • Schematic Design
    • Modifications to River Road at the LASM site (along with federal appopriations)
    • Riverfront Plaza
  • Green Infrasctruture
    • Commission Mapping to Assess and Diagram Existing Conditions (through increase in budget to DDD)
    • Design a comprehensive Urban Forest
    • Pursue a phased planting of the Urban Forest
    • Ensure durability and longevity of the Urban Forest
  • Victory Park Neighborhood
    • Acquire Post Office site for future redevelopment and/or open space
    • Establish guidelines for future development of Post Office site
  • Redevelopment of Victory Park
    • Connections to the Mississippi River
    • Extend the levee promenade to DeSoto Park (along with Corp of Engineers)
    • Spanish Town Corridor Pedestrian Connection (along with state funding)
    • River Road Narrowing (along with state funding)
    • River Road Crossings at Florida and North (along with state funding)
    • Extend Capitol Park to DeSoto Park and the River (along with state funding)
  • Connections to the Neighborhood
    • Two way traffic on St. Ferdinand and St. Louis (along with state funding)
    • Two way traffic on Laurel and Lafayette (along with state funding)
  • Housing and Mixed-Use Incentives
    • Tax abatements
    • Retail and Entertainment Incentives
  • Waiver of construction license and permit fees
    • Facade improvement and building rehabilitation (along with potential grants)
    • A cleaner, safer, better maintained and attractive Downtown
  • Skilled workforce recruitment and funding
    • Coordinated Parking Management
  • Establish downtown parking function with DPW or DDD
    • Increase enforcement capacity
    • Shared use agreements
    • Shared state parking garages (along with 3rd parties and state funding)
  • Unified signage for parking
    • New zoning, design standards, and code enforcement in Downtown
  • Historic District Protection
    • New design guidelines (along with DDD)
    • LEED standards for new developments
    • Views to the Mississippi River
  • River Road developments
    • Retail uses on Lafayette Street
    • Code enforcement
  • Marketing and Branding Downtown
    • Branding (along with DDD)

Page 85 of the report indicates the budget for the Downtown Development District would need to be doubled for the portions they would be responsible for exclusively.  Their budget would be increased from $576,000 to $1,152,000.  This would be done through an increase in taxes as follows: 

  • DDD property millage from 10 to 12.5 mills
  • DDD tax increase from 2% to 2.25%

Additionally, the study indicates that EBRP’s city spending would need to increase significantly, but no specific figures are given or assigned.  Though there are recommendations for private funding and grants, no amount is indicated as to the exact amount of expenditures required.

In other words, NO specific budget is attached to the report.  Nor are there any assigned amounts for each of the expenditures listed above that the City of BR/Parish of EBR would underwite.

This is an overview, and you can read the entire report in this 22 MB file if you are willing to take time for it to download. 

The bottom line is that we have another broken promise by undertaking a study which Mayor Holden takes full credit for at the beginning of the report on page two as he announces his “Phase 2” plan for Downtown Baton Rouge.

Given the fact that the report indicates 225,000 as our city limit population with only 2,000 residents in the Downtown area, this seems to be another plan to spend extensive taxpayer funds for less than 1% of the city’s residents (page 67).  It would be fair, however, to mention that there are 20,705 workers in Downtown Baton Rouge, of which 10,179 are city-parish or state workers. 

So, here we are.  Another study, and most likely millions of tax dollars to improve Downtown only! 

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Just one year ago, Mayor-President Kip Holden made a promise:

“There will not be another study this government will fund,” Holden said.  (Baton Rouge Business Report Daily Report, January 13, 2009.

Yesterday, this same publication reported:

— The DDD is undertaking a strategic planning study to see if the organization’s processes or structures could be improved. A report is expected in the next three to four months. (Baton Rouge Business Report Daily Report, January 12, 2010.

The facts continue to show that Holden is a tax and spend liberal, even in light of a decrease in city-parish tax collections for 2009. 

The DDD (Downtown Development District) is a quasi-parish government agency funded by your tax dollars.  The upcoming agenda for the East Baton Rouge Metro Council has an item to increase the salary of the executive director, Davis Rhorer.  Expenditures for the DDD require a stamp of approval from the Mayor or Metro Council. 

Mayor Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Futrell, told The Advocate, “This fits in precisely with Mayor Holden’s vision…”

BREC Superintendent, Bill Palmer, said no special funds are available. 

As they say — follow the money!  Need I say more?

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Secrets of the Red Stick Sunday, Sep 27 2009 

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It’s easy to understand why some refer to the Red Stick as “Kip World” or “Kipland” if you simply check the Webster’s Dictionary.  The definition of despotism is an individual or tight knit group of individuals that rule with absolute political power. 

Now we are getting to where the rubber meets the road in East Baton Rouge Parish. 

For those who are unaware of the tremendous political power held by a handful of individuals in the Red Stick, you need only to keep your ear to the ground and read carefully between the lines.  

History was not my favorite subject in school, but now I completely understand the importance of the past in order to understand the present.

Mayor-President Kip Holden was marked as unfriendly to business, a tax and spend liberal and named as one of two “King of Legislative Junketeers” according to The Advocate in 1997.  By 2004, Ginger Sawyer from Louisiana Business & Industry proclaimed Holden as the candidate with one of the worst LABI ratings.

Time has changed little for Holden’s political ventures.  Last year, former Councilman David Bonneno proposed a tax decrease for businesses in regard to new equipment and machinery.  Monsour quickly put a halt to the proposal at the direction of Holden. 

Now, Holden wants us to pay more taxes and build a downtown Epcot.  Holden took exception to the term ‘Epcot’ though it was birthed by the Downtown Development District, one of the main drivers of the proposed Audubon Alive! project — not the media as Holden claimed.

Holden makes a lot of claims that have no substance.  Examples include claiming there is no ownership issue with the proposed site for Alive! when in fact there is an issue with the railroad that was never resolved — or that he plans to have the state fund the $40 million required to raise the batture out of the swamp when in fact there was no discussion or approval. 

It’s part of the Secrets of the Red Stick that those in power hope we won’t notice or discuss.  I refuse to aspire to that mandate.  Instead, I will continue to ask the tough questions of our leaders and hope the newfound questions by the media will continue on behalf of the community they are charged with representing. 

The fact that the EBR Parish Metro Council was not made privy to these issues is proof in itself that Mayor Kip Holden believes he is large and in charge with no regard for others.  In fact, just yesterday it was revealed that Clerk of Court Doug Welborn was not told by Holden that his office was to be moved until Welborn viewed a slide show presentation.  Amazing!

Our community, political and business leaders need to realize that to whom much is given, much is required.  Their legacies should not be rooted in higher taxes, building larger buildings and entertainment complexes, or funding organizations that duplicate services. 

We can no longer ignore the obvious.  The truth is that our leaders are allowing Mayor-President Kip Holden and his entourage to spend millions of dollars at taxpayer’s expense while our real needs go unmet in the Red Stick.

The truth is painful. 

We can never be the next greatest city as long as we have children that are hungry, women that are abused, men that are absentee fathers, teenagers that are committing more crimes than in the history of our parish.  So much so that District Attorney Hillar Moore is proposing a full blown truancy program.

As long as we spend $500,000 annually to fund the Baton Rouge Area Chamber for economic development and approve contracts in the amount of $49,999 so that these expenditures do not have to be made public at Metro Council meetings, we are allowing Mayor Holden and his entourage to fail us as leaders. 

I suppose I shouldn’t even mention the hours spent doing ‘security sweeps’ by the Mayor’s security team before he enters facilities?  All the while witnesses to crime cannot be protected and murderers are set free.  It’s a  slap in the face to victims and their families.

Meanwhile, our citizens are tracking in the sludge from a failing sewer system into their homes making their children sick.  Perhaps it is true this is one reason our staph infection is at an all time high in the Red Stick? 

What on earth are we doing here in the Red Stick?  When will this madness stop?  At what point will JUST ONE LEADER in our community stand up and demand that we stop the excessive spending and taxation? Where is Tax Busters and Fred Dent when you need them?

If we truly want to be America’s next greatest city, we will stop the insanity of city-parish spending, address a failing sewer system as promised, house our inmates in tents as promised, have a no-tolerance for crime stand as promised, stop raising taxes, stop duplicating services, stop creating contracts for campaign contributors, and stop attacking those who question these ungodly practices.  Questioning is our duty!  These are the Secrets of the Red Stick that are injustices to our citizens.  

Somehow we have lost our way.  As a mayoral candidate, Rolfe McCollister, Jr. said, “I don’t believe in taxing our way to prosperity”.    What changed?

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Alive! But Not Well Friday, Sep 25 2009 

swamp

Along the shores of the Mighty Mississippi River lies a swampy batture in the heart of the Red Stick.  What lurks there is a sign of things Alive! but not well.

Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive might apply to the entangled web of hidden information that Mayor Kip Holden and his entourage purposely kept from the EBR Parish Metro Council and citizens of the Red Stick.

Perhaps what is most offensive is that Mayor Holden and his inner circle continually operate in a covert manner.  When questioned, Holden sloughs off the media, Council members or voters with the direct intention of discrediting them.  It’s an age old practice to get the focus off of the question and on to another topic.  Holden has even gone so far as to vehemently attack anyone who questions or opposes him

At yesterday’s council meeting, Mayor Holden ran around saying ‘no comment’ when he realized the media was on to his tactics.  Evidently Holden needed to regroup, quickly schedule a meeting with his entourage to do damage control, and finally do what he should have done over a year ago – meet with the state to discuss land ownership and funding to build up the property. 

Holden says he wants to ask the Capitol Delegation of the Louisiana Legislature to earmark $40 million to his favored pork barrel project.  The Delegation says they only received $50 million for special projects which must take care of nine parishes including East Baton Rouge.  This would be a tough sell to legislators to agree to spend the majority of the funding on East Baton Rouge Parish.

This scenario begs the question:  Why was this particular property chosen with so many potential land sites in the Red Stick?  Especially given the overwhelming challenges to prepare and build up the swampy batture.

The goods news is that the media has finally caught on to some of Holden’s dreadful practices and are revealing them to the voters:

All I can hope is that the voters will be provided with the full details of Mayor Kip Holden’s proposed tax increase prior to the November vote.  If the media keeps up this flow of information, that will very likely happen.  Let’s hope that Holden doesn’t turn up the heat on the media and force them to back down. 

Recently, Holden’s entourage touted that there was no organized opposition.  Once again, they underestimated the power of the voters. 

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Putting Together the Pieces Thursday, Sep 24 2009 

For two days in a row, the media rocked my world by finally asking for details of Mayor Kip Holden’s proposed tax increase that will come in the form of a bond issue this fall.  How much better can life get?  Baton Rouge Business Report’s JR Ball is asking some questions that community and business leaders have failed to ask.  Kudos to JR!  Read more here.

puzzle_piece%20cropped

So many pieces, so little time to put them all together.  Some say this is exactly what Mayor-President Kip Holden and his entourage are banking on in regard to this fall’s proposed tax increase.

I subscribe to the old adage of judging someone by their questions rather than their answers.  Weak leaders attack those who ask questions — something we have witnessed from Holden and his administration repeatedly.  Enough said.

While secrecy appears to be the mother’s milk of the EBR Mayor-President Kip Holden’s strategy, there are so many unanswered questions remaining:

  1. Why haven’t taxpayers been provided with full and complete disclosure on each aspect of the bond proposal package vs a one paragraph overview?
  2. How much of our tax dollars are being spent for the public relations portion of the bond proposal?
  3. What studies have been done on each aspect of the bond proposal and where can taxpayers access these reports? 
  4. Are we expected to fund nearly $1 billion for a 30-year tax with simple power point presentations?
  5. Who is really behind Progress Is, an organization set us as a non-profit promoting the bond issue?  
  6. Why should taxpayers be forced to choose an all or nothing plan because of a hard-headed-spendthrift Mayor-President?
  7. Why are we being led to believe that local government cannot make the necessary cuts in order to fund the real needs of our parish vs increasing our taxes?
  8. Who made the decision to assume that Downtown Baton Rouge should be the location of the proposed Audubon Alive! facility?

With all due respect, improving Downtown Baton Rouge has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of life for Red Stick residents whether you hail from Baker, Zachary, Central, Shenandoah, Highland Road, Gardere or Brookstown.  

Perhaps this is where “trust me, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” comes in?  If it is, I’m not buying what they are selling.

Since the days of Catfish Town, we have struggled to make downtown a thriving metropolis.  The visitor statistics for downtown already reveal a dismal report on a failed attempt at increasing tourism.  Building of The Shaw Center, two complete makeovers at the River Center, the USS Kidd, a complete makeover of the LASC, millions spent to upgrade the Old State Capitol, a barrage of bars and restaurants, and of course, our two major gaming facilities surrounded by an Atrium that remains empty are signs of more troubles to come for downtown Baton Rouge should we spend millions more on another ‘savior’ attraction.  

These facilities speak louder than any editorial publisher Rolfe McCollister, Jr. can write trying to convince us to spend more tax dollars downtown. 

There are more politics in this bond issue than you can shake a stick at — but the average taxpayer isn’t privy to this information.  The former shadow mayor, bond issue participants, public relations firms, and financial supporters of the Holden administration stand to make millions of dollars at our expense should this tax pass.  Hard facts, but true.

When will the business leaders of this community stand up, once and for all, and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?  When will you side with the hard-working citizens who are struggling to make their own neighborhoods safer? 

What happened to the former mayoral candidate Rolfe McCollister that said, “I don’t believe you tax your way to prosperity”?   I guess a lot changes in nine years, eh?

Though Mayor Kip Holden said last year that he planned to present this tax proposal, when he was first elected in 2000, he said, “Public Safety is the only thing for which I would ask the voters to raise taxes”!   

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said he would put temporary housing at the EBR Parish Prison.  Was this a lie or is he willing to keep his campaign promise?  Right after the election, a study done by former sheriff Greg Phares indicated that temporary housing and adding beds could be done at no extra cost except for a slight increase in food, beds and staff.  This was nearly two years ago!  What happened?

Putting the pieces together is tough given a shroud of secrecy, but I am committed to continue to seek the truth and shout it from the rooftops, and demand that business leaders and politicians stop the madness.  Say NO to higher taxes, and YES to fiscal responsibility!

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Politics Wins Out Thursday, Sep 3 2009 

 1921-06-04-The-Country-Gentleman-Norman-Rockwell-cover-Bully-Before-no-logo-140-Digimarc

On days such as these, there is little that needs to be said other than to share the facts:

Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois said he disagreed with Mayor Kip Holden’s approach for the impending bond issue claiming it was a MISTAKE BASED ON HIS CONSTITUENT’S FEEDBACK BUT WOULD GO ALONG WITH THE MAYOR ANY WAY.

Congratulations Smokie!  You have now graduated from Professor Kip’s School of Politics!

Welcome to Kip’ World folks! 

Who needs a new downtown project like Alive! when we have our own hurricane reinactment in the heart of the Metro Council Chambers? It may not be as exciting as a new Audubon project, but it is certainly as costly to the citizens of the Red Stick.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

P.S.  Kudos to the ONLY three council persons who voted according to their constituents:  Alison Cascio, Joel Boe’, and Scott Wilson  If they can survive the Holden administration, they will be leaders to keep an eye on . . .

Mayor Kip “Spendthrift” Holden Thursday, Feb 5 2009 

bendovernurse

Mayor Kip Holden never ceases to amaze me with his spendthrift plans for taxpayers of East Baton Rouge Parish.  While the entire country continues to make cutbacks, “our Mayor” seeks out new ways to hit voters in the pocketbook.  Since his tax plan failed last fall, he has continued to seek out ways to get around voters and fund his own selfish desires to spend our money extravagantly.

Attention Mayor Holden:  Every dime you spend has to find a source.  That source is the taxpayers.  Ever heard of saving money?  Has the thought struck you to find ways to cut back spending?  Evidently not!

Some of Mayor Holden’s latest spendthrift philosophies include:

  • Going to Washington, D.C. to ask for $800 million of President Obama’s stimulus package.  Instead of encouraging Washington against spending more of our tax dollars and reducing long-term debt, Holden is vying for funding of his special projects.  He was so bold as to say he should “come out of there with a pretty good chunk of change”. 
  • Asking the EBRP Metro Council to spend $1 million for land to put up a parking lot. 
  • Spending $17 million to expand the River Center that expands meeting rooms from 8 to 15 for the upcoming bowling congress. 
  • Renewed a $500,000 contract with BRAC (Baton Rouge Area Chamber) for economic development of EBR Parish.  This brings total payments to BRAC in the amount of $1.5 million since 2007.
  • Pushed through a $110 million bond issue for the Green Light Plan with the new Metro Council even though the CSRS project manager could not specify which projects would be funded.  What the ?

To add insult to injury, Mayor Holden is planning on pushing his $989 million tax proposal again this fall to voters, and excluding any benefit to the bedroom communities of Central, Baker and Zachary.  (These areas helped defeat the tax proposition.)  Interesting.

As of January 1, 2009, our spendthrift Mayor Kip Holden has already spent or has plans to spend a grand total over $928 million in tax dollars.  When you add the proposed tax plan this fall of $989 million in new tax dollars, you come up with a super grand total of $1,918,000,000 (yes that is $1 billion $918 million).

Wow!  This unrestrained spending by Holden must stop!  It was no secret I did not support Holden for Mayor.  I believe he lives with reckless abandon in so many ways and spending our tax dollars is probably #1 on his agenda.

At what point will Mayor Kip “Spendthrift” Holden stop?  Where is the old watchdog group TaxBusters when we need them?  Fred Dent, are you out there?  (Gotta give ole’ Fred credit for speaking out against the $500,000 BRAC expenditure – so I know he’s out there!)  Watchdogs are an important necessity when we have a Mayor that insists on spending vs. cutting back in these troubled times.

I cannot stand by and listen how great our community is doing from Mayor Holden and how we need two new downtown hotels when I read in the Business Report how our downtown hotel business is down 14-17% from this time last year.  Of course it is, FEMA guests stimulated our hotel industry . . . temporarily!  Wake up folks!

Mayor Holden is definitely out of control on spending.  We are one month into his new term and he already has visions of an increase of nearly $2 billion in spending.  When will the madness stop?

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Here We Go Again Saturday, Jan 17 2009 

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As Ray Charles sang, “Here we go again…one more time”.  Mayor Kip Holden has announced that he plans to present his tax increase in the form of a bond proposal…one more time on a fall ballot to the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Holden’s approach will be to wrap higher taxes up with a nice red bow called “an economic stimulus plan”.  The operative word is downtown

The only good news is that Holden said, “there will not be another study this government will fund”.  Great!

While we are in an economic recession, and president-elect Obama Barack plans to take the helms of the oval office on Tuesday, Holden has realized that there will be economic stimulus money up for grabs.  The Mayor has requested $500 million for EBR Parish.  These are the type of things that make me shake my head and say “interesting”.

The reason this is ‘interesting’ is that just a couple months ago Holden was willing to make taxpayers pay for $100 million in tax increases through former shadow mayor Walter Monsour’s bond issue.  Now that the plan was turned down by voters, suddenly there are other funds to be found.

This is precisely what should have been done in the beginning.  Before a bond issue for $100 million in tax increases was proposed, other options should have been researched. 

The most important question is:  How much more money is there in potential cuts to the city parish budget? 

Trimming the fat is what every family in our parish is having to do with the current recession.  Families are cooking at home more.  Packing a lunch and working at your desk is now an option more people are considering.  Lower gas prices have citizens smiling.  Water cooler talk is about clipping coupons, carefully reviewing investments and where the latest sales are in the retail world.

At what point will city-parish government realize that they must also cut the fat?  You do not spend more money in a recession, you save, cut back and search for more affordable options.

Holden’s office told Baton Rouge Business Report that the new proposed tax plan will include lower project costs.  Really?  Where these options available the first go round?

I don’t think we are asking much when we expect muncipalities to give us their best foot forward.  Not the second time around, but the first time around.  Not because voters refused to pay higher taxes, but because it was the right thing to do.  The first time.

When I read these type of articles, it confirms that my first assessment was accurate.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink!, he talks about your initial instinct when you know that you know that you know something is or is not right.  That is the instinct that led voters to turn down Holden’s mandate to pay more taxes last fall.  It’s just good common sense!

Besides, Holden’s ‘new’ plan, according to the Business Report, is about downtown.  After speaking at the Downtown Development District board meeting, even The Advocate reported that Holden has bigger plans for downtown.  Though you cannot be all things to all people, what about the rest of the parish? 

Don’t the citizens of our parish deserve strong bridges instead of emails that claim we have 38 unsafe bridges that will only be improved if we vote for a tax increase?  Holding taxpayers hostage with threats of this type will not win a tax election.

With all due respect, grants for new uniforms, logos and branding for the Sheriff’s office could have better served the public improving our infrastructure.  Do we care what they wear as long as they are protecting and serving?  Then again, that story is for another day since rumors have it that it was tied to a political promise. 

The bottom line is that we need the incoming Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Futrell, to delve deep into our city budget and make the necessary cuts.  Futrell needs to cut the contracts of Holden’s private security detail, public relations personnel, etc. and seek grant funding to address our infrastructure needs.   We are spending untold dollars that are buried in the budget only for true researchers to dig up.  

We want our city-parish government officials to spend our tax dollars wisely, to budget them effectively, and to realize that while we are making these changes to our own pocketbooks, they need to do the same.

Is that too much to ask of our public servants?  I think not.  Treat our tax dollars as if they were your own money.  Pretty simple approach.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Shadow Mayor Retiring Wednesday, Dec 24 2008 

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EBR Parish’s Chief Administrative Officer, Walter Monsour, has announced his retirement from the top position in the Mayor’s Office.  Monsour is referred to as the Shadow Mayor because of the power he yields coupled with the fact that he is the actual decision maker for EBR Parish.

Now that Monsour is retiring, it will be interesting to watch future developments in the parish.  As the spokesperson at Metro Council meetings, the author of the city parish budget, and the speerheader of both the infamous loop and failed bond issue, Monsour leaves Mayor-President Kip Holden alone to figure things out.

Mayor Holden has been the face of the Mayor’s Office, but Monsour has been the brains and driving force behind the scenes.  Without Monsour, Holden will now be forced to go back to the business of the people instead of dancing around town in nightclubs and festivals.  Perhaps this will mean a major cut in the city-parish budget for his security detail?  Making appearances, shaking hands and motivational speeches is Holden’s forte, not planning and implementation of strategic plans.

Holden will most likely move one of his staff members into the Chief Administrative Officer position like Mike Futrell, who came aboard in an effort to thwart his running against the Mayor last fall.  As a legislator, Futrell was liked, but did not effect enough changes to show any savvy as a CAO. 

Another candidate that lost his chance at being CAO is former employee Alfred Williams who served as Holden’s campaign manager.  Williams is not popular, but does specialize in hauling (uh, driving) voters to the polls in an effort to to turn out the minority vote.  He was moved out of the Mayor’s office after a not-so-well-known controversy involving the casino vote where the Mayor played both sides of the fence and got caught.  As an loyal friend to Holden, Williams took the hit.  No need to feel sorry for him though as he has stockpiled large sums of money from democratic campaigns with his ‘non-profit’ organization employing family members and confidantes.

If Futrell takes the reigns of Chief Administrative Officer, what happens to Holden’s raise-our-tax-plan?  Futrell warned citizens in Holden’s first run for Mayor-President that the parish would suffer increases in taxes.  In politics, your words often come back to haunt you.  Will Futrell now support higher taxes?  Perhaps Futrell can convince Holden to repeat history and cut the city parish budget as he did to fund the tax pay increase for police officers? 

Whatever Holden’s decision, the facts remain that the taxpayers of EBR Parish are not interested in increasing taxes or funding bond issues that develop one part of our parish – downtown.  As far as bridges, synchronizing lights, traffic and crime, the citizens of our parish deserve these services to be provided without tax increases.

How can this be accomplished?  T-R-I-M  T-H-E  F-A-T!

Who can do this job effectively and to the pleasure of the citizens of our parish?  Will Holden return to the office of Mayor to be about the business of the people?  Let’s hope Monsour’s retirement brings positive changes in city government and in our leadership.  If we are to be America’s next greatest city, we need hands-on management by the man elected, not a Shadow Mayor.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

Just in time for the Mayoral Election Sunday, Sep 28 2008 

I’ve been mulling over the recent Metro Council meeting that focused on the East Baton Rouge Sewer System.  When it comes to the voters, It seems that Mayor Kip Holden’s people must think like Jessup in A Few Good Men:  “You can’t handle the truth!”

The fact is that on January 9, 2008, finance manager of DPW, Mark LeBlanc, told the Metro Council there was a $250 to $300 million shortfall in revenue to cover the upgrading of the EBR Parish sewer system.  Walter Monsour, Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer, agreed and spoke to this fact.  A $129 million budget supplement was allotted.  Still, Holden’s administration could not promise taxes would not be raised to fund the sewer system due to a potential shortfall.

Holden’s administration used this argument to defend the continuation of the 4% sewer system annual increase.  The defense came because Metro Council members Wayne Carter and David Boneno were questioning whether the annual increase was necessary if Holden’s plan would cost less, as promised by Holden.  The lesser cost was due to Holden changing the deep tunnel approach to one with ‘newer technology’ with a lower cost.

As a result, Metro Council member David Boneno said he had yet to see a detailed financial report on the sewer system.  Understand that this is a very important piece of information.  The very council that is elected by the people to oversee the budget had requested a detailed report of the expenditures the previous week (January 1, 2008 Metro Council) because they had not yet been given an explanation of expenditures. 

NOW, after 8 (EIGHT) months, we suddenly are presented with ‘new’ information – just in time for the Mayoral election.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. 

Fast forward to September 24, 2008  The Metro Council is now told by Holden’s administration that the sewer system is now ‘fully funded’.  This is politics in its truest form.

Let’s remember this folks.  Mayor Kip Holden, Chief Administrative Officer Walter Monsour, and CH2M Hill Deputy Program Director for the sewer system, Michael Ellis have now told us that the sewer system will be fully funded and there is no shortfall.  LeBlanc, who formerly claimed a shortfall on January 9, 2008, now agrees no shortfall.  They even brought Merrill Lynch in to support the argument, along with Mike Futrell, assistant chief administrative officer for Holden.  They sure brought out the big guns.   Just in time for the election!  Got it yet?

Uh oh, hold on.  There was a little clue given by Ellis in his presentation:  “the proposed construction costs are all based on current-day prices, but noted that most of the projects are going to be bid in the next two or three years.”  Do you believe that your current grocery budget will cover your grocery bills for the next two or three years?  Enough said.

It took 266 days since the original request, but only 10 days before the Mayoral election, for Holden’s administration to given ‘new’ information that everything is okay financially with the sewer system.

Maybe you don’t find this strange, but I do.  I don’t like being treated like a lamb being led to the slaughter.  Boneno and Carter were right to ask for a report.  Holden’s people were wrong to wait so long, and just in time for an election to given a report that all will be just fine. 

One thing is for sure.  We will mark our calendars for the future to see if this is a fact or just another empty mayoral election promise from Holden.  He and his staff seem to be good at making it seem everything is okay.  Meanwhile we continue to be plagued by an overflowing sewer system and traffic that is known as the worst in the entire nation. 

Vote on October 4th.  If you are happy with the sewer system, sitting in traffic for hours on end, continuing to view the blight around our parish, and crime that has everyone continually on edge, vote to re-elect Mayor Kip Holden.  If you are not happy with these things, consider another candidate (Dan Kyle, Ron Johnson or Wayne Carter) that can bring much needed change in our parish.  Don’t be fooled by reports that arrive just in time for the mayoral election.

Until next time,

Red Stick Republican

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