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City Council considers hiring own attorney

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Posted at 4:03 PM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-17 17:03:03-04

The City Council will consider an ordinance to hire an attorney as soon as possible to help resolve the current dispute with the City-Parish Attorney’s office over the City Council’s ability to control city tax dollars as the voters intended, Council Chair Pat Lewis said.

The council will vote to appoint Lea Anne Batson as special counsel. Batson has more than 30 years of experience as an attorney representing consolidated government in East Baton Rouge Parish, including four years as the Parish Attorney.

Batson has also served on three different committees charged with revisions to East Baton Rouge’s Plan of Government.

“A better attorney could not have been referred with more experience and who is uniquely qualified to aid us as we work out the disagreement over how to interpret this new charter,” Lewis said.

Because the deadline to pass next year’s budget is quickly approaching, Lewis has formally requested the ordinance be placed on the Special City Council meeting agenda for August 18, 2020. If introduced, the ordinance will be considered for Final Adoption on September 1st, in advance of the Budget Adoption scheduled for September 10, 2020.

“Every day is crucial,” Lewis said. “We have a key budget hearing on August 27 that will almost certainly involve disputes over who can control city tax dollars. If the City Council loses control over city tax dollars, it will be difficult to prevent city tax dollars from being spent for non-city purposes. City taxpayers need and deserve their own legal representation.”

“This is a near-emergency situation,” Lewis said. “Concern has been expressed by many on adopting a budget that may not be legal.”

The Home Rule Charter allows either council to hire an attorney to serve as special counsel for a “specific purpose.” In this case, the City Council will consider hiring Batson for the purpose of assisting the City Council in its dispute with the administration and Parish Council over how to properly interpret and implement the joint decision-making aspects of the charter.

Batson will be paid at the same rates established by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, Lewis said.