Tensions rise between a BR councilman and HPC members

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A war of words is booming between a member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council and some members of the city's Historic Preservation Commission. It began with allegations that members of the commission were violating open meeting laws and has now evolved into a full blown power struggle.

In Spanish Town things like home additions, types of windows used and cutting down certain trees fall under restrictions agreed upon by the community's civic association.

"There's no difference between our guidelines and traffic laws. If you run a stop sign you can't say I didn't see it or know I had to stop. It's the law. That's basically what our guidelines are," said Spanish Town Civic Association Board Member Darryl Gissel.

They are guidelines that Gissel says his group has given the six-member HPC full confidence to regulate. But that confidence is not is not widespread. In fact Councilman Ryan Heck has publicly called for the resignation of three of the commission's members, Chair Carolyn Bennett, Bill Huey and John Sykes.

"I feel that the comments that three of us are clowns in the press and in emails denigrates the entire commission and work of what we're doing," said Bennett.

Those comments came from a heated email exchange between Heck and Huey.

In one Heck says to Huey, "YOU are the problem. And you're too blind to see it....  You three clowns"

Huey issued his own reply to Heck saying, "All you have is District 11. Anyone else who listens to you is a fool."

Heck and the Baton Rouge Parish Attorney's Office also allege that members of the commission violated open meeting laws twice in the last ten months. Heck did not wish to speak on camera but issued a statement.

"If a member attended both illegal meetings, and also attended the parish attorney's warning presentation on holding illegal meetings, then it is likely that an item will be placed on the agenda for their removal from the HPC," said Heck.

Huey disagrees and said Monday the parish attorney's opinion on the meetings in question means nothing to him.

"They reversed themselves on a key decision that really precipitated all of this. I have no confidence, zero, no confidence in the parish attorney's office," said Huey.

Huey went on to give his take on what might happen if the council gets involved and forces the issue of suggested resignations.

"It would be an open door for the council establishing control over this commission both in appointments and outcomes," added Huey.

Carolyn Bennett also serves as executive director of 'The Foundation for Historical Louisiana' headquartered in the old governor's mansion.

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