Baton Rouge, LA (FOX44) — The Metro Council took two steps toward ending a fight about the future of the St. George incorporation effort.
The council reappointed Gary Durham and Johnny Suchy to the board of the St. George Fire Protection District.
Their terms, and that of David Carnes, expired on January 1, but they remained on the board because the council had been unable to choose whether to reappoint or replace them.
"It seems like we're hopelessly deadlocked," council member Ryan Heck said during Wednesday night's meeting.
This was the council's third effort to vote on the board appointments.
Carnes, Durham, and Suchy asked to be reappointed, but a group of council members nominated three other people last month, shortly before the first vote. The move was seen as retribution for those commissioners supporting the St. George incorporation effort, and a possibly way to influence the St. George Fire Department. The political implications turned a seemingly benign task into a hot-button issue.
"Considering that fire board appointments, or any appointments to commissions in this parish for that matter, other than the CATS board, generally doesn't draw one camera, much less two or three," noted Dustin Yates, a St. George firefighter who also sits on the St. George incorporation committee.
"Besides the members of the St. George Fire Department and a few other emails that we got, I really didn't see a whole lot of public interest in this," claimed Councilman John Delgado, who was seen as the instigator of the effort to appoint new commissioners.
"For me, it's never been a 'against St. George' kind of issue," added Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who originally nominated one of the other candidates. "I supported (Brad) Dutruch in the beginning; I'm still supporting him."
Each time the council voted, a large group of St. George firefighters attended; the first two times, they left disappointed at the council's lack of action.
"I have guys that take time off of part-time, I have guys that spend extra nights away from their house to be here," Yates stated, mentioning that some of the firefighters live as far away as Mandeville. "And when things continually get deferred and kicked down the line, I think, a lot of times that's not taken into consideration."
Heck considered that after the first round of voting ended without a winner. He suggested deferring the other votes for a full year, which would let the current commissioners maintain their positions.
"Just for the sake of not seeing it on the agenda every week, and having these people miss work and everything," he explained, "'til we can come to an agreement ourselves."
But Wednesday night, Marcelle decided to end some of the tension. During the vote for the second position, she looked around, saw that her preferred candidate for the spot, East Baton Rouge school board member Connie Bernard, would not have enough support to win, and compromised, voting for Durham. She later did the same for Suchy, getting him re-appointed, as well.
"Number one," Marcelle stated, "I didn't realize that Ms. Bernard, who's a friend of mine, was going to be nominated, so I voted for her the first round. And when she was unable to get it, I didn't want a stance of, when they start talking about moving it for a year or two years, I don't want the city to be divided. I'm not against (Durham) in any way, so I felt that I would give him my support."
"I was glad to see we were able to move forward with the business of the council and do the appointments," Delgado said afterward. "Now, they weren't the candidates necessarily that I wanted to see appointed, but I respect the decision of the council, and I'm glad we made at least two of the three appointments."
"You never really know what's going to take place at these council meetings until your behind's in the seats and you're watching what takes place," Yates said.
The council was unable to decide between Dutruch and Carnes. They will come up for another vote at the council's next meeting, March 12.
Another problem that led to the council's inability to select a commissioner prior to Wednesday was that various members had been absent over the last few weeks. Councilwoman Tara Wicker did not attend Wednesday's meeting after going into labor.