As commonly understood by folks who choose not to participate in the Parish
With Parish elections only about a week away, I decided to put in a little overtime in examining the underlying arguments of Councilman Scott Wilson and fans of the two ballot propositions to change the East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRP) Plan of Government to provide the small cities of Baker, Zachary, and Central (the BZC) appointees to the Library Board of Control (LBC) and the Recreation and Parks Commission (BREC).
In my previous post
, I countered, empirically, any argument for these two propositions based on population. In case you don’t want to read the entire post, the BZC represent a combined total of 12.66% of the population. Approving the propositions would grant the BZC 25% of the vote on BREC and 30% of the vote on the LBC. If passed, the propositions would create a disproportionate power sharing situation in favor of the BZC.
But what about the underlying argument that the BZC is not receiving its fair share? Essentially, the argument that the northern portion of the Parish is being ignored by the LBC and BREC in favor of the city of Baton Rouge and the southern portion of the Parish? Per the Advocate
, here’s the essential argument:
“The bottom line is we need more representation from across the parish,” Wilson said. “Look at the Library Board. Nobody north of Florida Boulevard is serving on the Library Board.”
Since the current appointees are at-large and consider the needs of the Parish as a whole, this should not matter (not to mention that the proposition only addresses three small cities, not “across the Parish”). The argument above would be valid if there was a truly disproportionate allocation of resources by the LBC and BREC to the detriment of the northern portion of the Parish. So, is that the case? Let’s take a look…
The first thing we need to do is come to a reasonable understanding of what constitutes the northern part of the Parish. Since Councilmembers Wilson and Trae Welch (another advocate of these propositions) represent not only the BZC but much of the unincorporated portions of the northern portion of the Parish, we can’t only focus on the corporate limits of the BZC. With that in mind, and a native’s understanding of the geography of East Baton Rouge Parish, here is my version of the Mason-Dixon line for East Baton Rouge Parish which I’ll further reference as the Hooper-Harding Line:
Draw a line directly from the Mississippi River to the western end of Thomas Road. Thomas Road east to Plank Road. Plank Road south to Hooper Road. Hooper Road east to Mickens Road. Mickens Road southeast to Joor Road. Joor Road south to Greenwell Springs Road. Greenwell Springs Road northeast to Flannery Road. Flannery Road south to Florida Boulevard. Florida Boulevard east to the Parish line.
You can see a rough approximation of the Hooper-Harding line in the picture above. Anything along or north of the Hooper-Harding line is considered the northern portion of EBRP for comparison purposes. The Hooper-Harding line generally separates the inner-city, urban characteristics of the City of Baton Rouge from its sister cities in the BZC as well as the rural, unincorporated areas in the northern part of the Parish. This also increases the size of the population that we’re examining to 87,549*, which is 19.89% of the Parish population based on the 2010 US Census (also interesting to note that the population of the unincorporated northern portion of the Parish outnumbers any of the individual cities of the BZC). With that information established, let’s take a look at how each of the public entities is doing with respect to the northern part of the Parish.
Library Board of Control:
This one’s pretty easy since the LBC can largely be measured by its facilities and it only has so many. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library System currently has thirteen active branches with one branch that is currently under construction
(Fairwood) and one that is currently sort of under construction
(Southdowns/Rouzan). For the sake of the argument, let’s go ahead and say that the LBC has 15 libraries. The Baker Branch, Central Branch, Greenwell Springs Road Regional Branch, Pride-Cheneyville Branch, and the Zachary Branch are all located above or along the Hooper-Harding line. 33.33% of the library branches in East Baton Rouge Parish directly serve or are easily accessible to the 19.89% of the population in the northern portion of the Parish**.
So I ask the proponents of the proposition: Is the problem that you’re being overserved?
Nothing to see here folks, certainly not a massive public park...
Recreation and Parks Commission: This one was not so much fun. BREC has a LOT of facilities; 189 of them built or in planning totaling 6,687.30 acres. On request, BREC graciously provided an excel list of all the parks within their system. While you could pull all of them from the BREC website, it would be a giant pain in the ass. So thanks for the help BREC! Getting down to business… of the 189 facilities BREC operates in East Baton Rouge Parish, 60 of them are located north of the Hooper-Harding line. That’s 31% of BREC assets for an area that contains 19.89% of the population. Better yet, lets talk acreage. Fully 3,502.62 of the 6,687.30 acres managed and operated by BREC are located north of the Hooper-Harding line. That’s 52.37% for 20% of the population! Again I ask, is the problem that the BZC and northern portion of the Parish being overserved?
The Bottom Line:
Look, no discussion of this topic would be complete without considering the past. While the LBC has never seemed to be a high priority for the northern portion of the Parish, BREC has been a contentious issue in recent years with some of the cities threatening to pull out. Given that the BZC has already split their school systems off from the EBRP school system, I would hesitate writing off future threats of this nature. Just look at Mike Mannino’s advertisement in the October 3rd issue of the Central City News
and not only because it’s hilarious. Mannino is running against Bodi White for State Senate in the upcoming election; the district they are competing for includes the City of Central and portions of the northern part of the Parish. Check out Page 7 on the right hand side. Yup, a campaign promise to break Central away from BREC. Clearly, there is some desire within the city to break away if the concept is making its way into a campaign promise. Like most campaign promises, it largely panders to a certain group without bothering much with facts. There are several facilities located or being constructed in and within close proximity to Central. The issue may be that they aren’t actually physically located within the city limits of Central. So what? I live in Baton Rouge. If I want to ride a horse or shoot a bow at a Parish-run park, I have to leave the City of Baton Rouge to do so. Seriously, is anyone arguing for an equestrian center in Baton Rouge? No, because we can drive a few miles to Farr Park. This apparently isn’t good enough for the powers-that-be in the northern portion of the Parish. The part that I really find amusing about this is that, from a tax base perspective, it seems to me that you really wouldn’t want that many land-gobbling parks in small cities since it reduces the space available for business or housing development- you know, the ones that generate tax revenue. It seems to me you would want parks just outside of the corporate limits, easily accessible but not taking away from your potential tax base. Maybe that’s just me.
The arguments with respect to BREC are mirrored for the LBC. The northern portion of the Parish is well represented both in terms of libraries and public parks. Don’t let someone tell you lies that it is not.
In summary,this is simply yet another attempted power grab by the powers that be in the BZC. What the folks up north choose not to understand is that we’re all in this Parish together. I urge you to vote against these two ballot propositions. If they fail, I’ll almost certainly soon be asking you to also vote against the subsequent attempt to further break away from the Parish.
*After an infuriatingly long search, I finally located the data I was searching for
at the US Census website. For reference, the portion of EBRP north of the Hooper-Harding line is roughly comprised of census tracts 32.01, 35.01, 42.01, 42.03, 42.04, 42.05, 43.01, 43.02, 44.01, 44.02, 44.03, 45.03, 46.02, 46.03, 46.04, & 47.
** I could also point out, using data the anti-downtown library coalition practically fell over themselves to use, both Central and Pride-Cheneyville tend to rank low on one or both of the gate count and circulation rank order lists. I don’t find the argument persuasive, so I decided not to use it in the meat of the post but figured I would include it as a footnote. I also can’t find the stupid chart.