POSTED: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 5:34pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 5:45pm
BATON ROUGE, La (NBC33) — The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security had to intervene in a year-long debate between two East Baton Rouge parish leaders. Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and Mayor-President Kip Holden have been butting heads over federal grant money allocated to emergency preparedness.
GOHSEP Director Mark Cooper sent a letter to the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness to “notify [the office] that GOHSEP will assume administration of the 2009 and 2010 grants.” In the letter, Cooper says he made the decision after several discussions with Holden, in which the mayor said he refused to resolve issues with the sheriff in order to get the grants.
“He’s not allowed the sheriff to see the spending plan or sign off on it, so they’ve been at an impasse.”
The trouble started in 2009, when GOHSEP changed the grant application process, adding the sheriff’s approval and signature to a list of requirements. All of the requirements have to be fulfilled in order to get the grant money.
However, Holden doesn’t agree with that requirement. He says, under Louisiana law, he has the sole authority in the parish over the spending plan.
“The sheriff has no role in the law. They are not following the law that's passed by the Louisiana legislature,” Holden explains. “The only role the sheriff has in this situation or in any GOHSEP matter is in an advisory capacity.”
Cooper says GOHSEP is doing everything right. “We are the grantee and we can put any requirements on those grants to make sure we’re meeting the goals, to prepare, to respond, and to recover from disasters.”
Cooper says GOHSEP was given that authority by the Department of Homeland Security.
The mayor thinks there’s more to it than that. “We’ve had a number of mayors operating under the same rules that I’m operating under,” he explains. “Why is it now, when it’s during an election year, all of a sudden there’s a problem? I’ll tell you why. It’s pure politics, and politics has no place when it comes down to the safety of the people in East Baton Rouge parish.”
However, Cooper says politics have nothing to do with it. “It’s about doing what’s right,” he says. “It’s the best practice and it makes sense that local law enforcement and first-responders be involved in how the grant money will be spent.”
Cooper says the requirement that has the mayor so upset wasn’t just for East Baton Rouge Parish. All 64 parishes in the state had to do the same thing. EBR parish is the only one that hasn’t complied.
Cooper says he had no other option than to take action.
“Let’s face it. We’ve got a crime problem here in East Baton Rouge Parish. We’re right in the middle of hurricane season. The money needs to be spent where it needs to be spent.”
GOHSEP allocated at least 25% of the grant to Sheriff Gautreaux. He will decide how it is spent on law enforcement in the parish. The rest of the money will go to the mayor to be spent on homeland security. Those plans have to be submitted by July 18th, just 12 days from now.
Cooper believes it was the only way to solve the problem. Otherwise, the parish could lose the grant money altogether.
Sheriff Gautreaux sent a written statement in response to the letter sent by Mark Cooper and the comments made by Mayor Holden.
"I am disappointed that GOHSEP had to step in to settle this issue, but I am glad they exercised their right to do so," Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. "We can now move on with the business at hand. GOHSEP has every right to administer this grant as they see fit. We are the only parish in the state that has not complied with GOHSEP requirements, and I think that speaks for itself.
"As far as the mayor’s comments, 'I will no longer be a part of the circus he has created over this issue.' My final comment in regards to this is- 'I AM DONE'”