“We’re struggling with transparency right now so I felt it’s important for people to know it cannot be pulled.” ~EBR Councilwoman
“I want an investigation into where this NDA came from.” ~ EBR Councilman
After two separate federal agencies corrected what East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s claims to be a “miscommunication,” the mayor has requested the stormwater drainage fee item be removed from the Oct. 26th agenda.
All public meetings to discuss the fee have now been cancelled. Plus, at least one East Baton Rouge Councilman is asking for an investigation.
“I want an investigation into where this NDA came from,” said EBR Councilman Aaron Moak. “They’ve opened the door with this entire ‘miscommunication.’ Now there are three entities (parish-attorney, mayor & the council) claiming ‘miscommunication.’ How’s that even happen.”
It comes after the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) & Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Congressman Garret Graves they were not aware of any non-disclosure agreement over the proposed stormwater drainage fee. The fee would have cost homeowners, businesses and even cemeteries tens of thousands of dollars in annual fees but the residents could not vote on it. Only the EBR council members would have been able to vote on the proposed fee.
Mayor Broome and her staff repeatedly told the public and officials, including council members, that details of the proposed stormwater utility fee could not be discussed because of a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.
“A part of coming into compliance of where we need to be is to ask council for support to pass this legislation and other elements of that process, we have been…just to be honest about it, under a gag order and we haven’t been able to really discuss it in a public way, at least not the way we would want to do it or we would anticipate to be able to,” Kelvin Hill, the assistant chief administrative officer for Mayor Broome, told the EBR Council at the Oct. 12th meeting.
At that meeting, Councilman Dwight Hudson asked if there’s a problem to extend the time frame past Oct. 26th so the public could have more time to learn about the proposed fee.
“I will say this though I am concerned deeply concerned if this item has to wait till the 26th, that would be problematic for city-parish,” said Hill.
“We’re on a time frame right now in dealing with the situation we’re dealing him. Like he said, we’re under a gag order in one of the agreements that we can’t go too far into it public wise,” said EBR Parish Attorney Andy Dotson.
Councilwoman Jen Racca asked, “If there’s a failure to move forward tonight, what would be the consequences of that?”
“Personally, I don’t know if I can answer that question with absolute certainty but I believe it will lead us towards enforcement action,” said Hill.
The rush to get the proposed fee before the EBR Metro-Council was said to avoid possible looming fees that could be assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a consent decree.
But now, the EPA & DOJ have proved that’s not the case.
“No non-disclosure agreement is in place or required by the EPA or the Department of Justice regarding the storm water fee in Baton Rouge,” said Congressman Graves. “No deadline in place required by EPA that would force the new tax to be imposed by the parish by the end of the month.”
It’s why Mayor Broome has since asked the item be removed from the Oct. 26th agenda. But is it that simple?
Because the item has already been introduced for a public hearing, the council must move forward.
Multiple EBR past and current council members have said precedent is if an item has already been introduced for public hearing, regardless if the item is requested to be deleted, the council must move forward with a public hearing.
“I think we have a legal requirement that says the item now has to be heard and it has to be voted on. We can delete the item, defer it, defeat it or pass it. Those are our four options,” said Councilwoman Laurie Adams. “We’re struggling with transparency right now so I felt it’s important for people to know it cannot be pulled.”
Sources said the mayor’s office is pushing hard to have the item pulled from the Oct. 26th agenda.
UWK has reached out to Mayor Broome’s office for any comment in regards to the report. Our requests have been ignored so far.