BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There was no shortage of debate at the first metro council meeting of the new year Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Two standout items on the agenda included businesses on Essen Lane petitioning to be annexed into Baton Rouge, and the highly contested location of a tire shredder that could potentially service the entire state from East Baton Rouge Parish.
The metro council approved two items on the agenda that allow the United Plaza office complex, the several businesses housed there, and a private street that goes through the complex to be annexed into Baton Rouge.
The businesses favor the stability that comes with Baton Rouge’s government, while the city lavishes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars collected through property taxes from the building.
Drew Murrell, a representative for St. George, said the council was acting prematurely. Council members Trae Welch and Dwight Hudson agreed.
Murrell argued a judge could rule that St. George was incorporated as a city back in October of 2019 when voters approved the incorporation. Under Murrell’s logic, any action taken after that date would be null and void, including annexations.
Murrell went further, arguing the metro council hasn’t commissioned a study that would determine if annexing the property would actually benefit the city or stretch an already thin budget.
City representatives argued to the council that the city was already shelling out money to pay for the United Plaza complex, and any added costs from annexation would be minuscule.
As for the potential undoing of any annexations should a judge approve an incorporation date matching the date of the vote rather than the as of yet to be determined date St. George is certified, representatives from the parish attorney’s office argued the council can only make determinations based on the current situation rather than hypotheticals.
Between the back and forths, Councilman Hudson was remanded by fellow councilmembers for “disrespecting” Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis. At one point, Councilman LaMont Cole had to intervene in one of Hudson’s rants aimed at Collins-Lewis, demanding Hudson be more respectful in the way he speaks to women.
Another spat between Collins-Lewis and Councilman Matt Watson spurred from Watson referencing Collins-Lewis as the “acting” mayor pro-tempore of the council. The mayor pro-tempore leads council meetings. Collins-Lewis filled in as mayor pro-tempore for Councilman Scott Wilson who was not in attendance.
Both Hudson and Watson later apologized to Collins-Lewis for the statements.
Switching gears, the metro council later shot down Councilwoman Chauna Banks’ attempt to rescind an agreement that would allow a business named Baum Environment Group (Baum) to manage a forthcoming tire shredder that would potentially operate in her district.
Councilwoman Banks continues to put up fierce opposition to the tire shredder, but the fight is only emblematic of her larger concerns that council members are targeting north Baton Rouge for industrial businesses.
Banks described putting the shredder in her district, which is made up of predominately black residents who are low-income, as “absolutely racist.”
Banks pointed to other industrial projects that were projected to be success stories before falling into what she equates with dismay, such as Ronaldson Field Landfill and chemical plants.
“As innocent as this project looks today, that’s exactly as Ronaldson looked 30 years ago, and now it’s a monstrosity," said Banks.
Banks argued adding another industrial business would be like “getting blood out of a turnip.”
Councilwoman Erika Green backed Banks up, arguing the process by which tires would be collected and brought to the shredder reminded her of clothing donation bins around the city that are often overrun with clothing and lead to further illegal dumping.
Councilwoman Collins-Lewis and Councilman Cole were less than impressed that the shredder could potentially shred tires brought from outside of East Baton Rouge Parish. Even though officials advised the council testing will need to happen before those tires are brought into the parish so foreign mosquito species aren’t brought into the parish, the possibility of that cross-contamination was enough to draw out more frustrations from councilmembers.
The council ultimately declined Banks’ efforts, but many council members said they’re open to finding a new location for the shredder. Banks previously confirmed to WAFB she would file a lawsuit preventing the shredder from being placed in her district as a last resort. That could prove detrimental, since the shredder would need to be in place by June 30, or the city-parish would lose the grant that funds it.
Banks did not confirm if she would continue with the lawsuit when asked by WAFB after the meeting Wednesday.