Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, October 23, 2014

Metro Council OK's annexations, kicks more decisions down the road

Aside from approving petitions to annex land from L'Auberge Casino & Hotel and LSU into the City of Baton Rouge, the Metro Council kicked several significant issues down the road on Wednesday evening.

Among them, the council deferred action on approving three new CATS bus routes, allowing three bus bench franchises to place benches on state roads and assembling a committee to vet applicants for the vacant parish attorney position.

The council also discussed a strategy presented by Mayor Kip Holden's chief administrative officer William Daniel to implement recommendations from a year-old study of city-parish employee compensation. Daniel suggested paying city-parish employees a minimum of $9 an hour and giving all employees a 2% raise to account for cost-of-living increases, which would cost the city-parish about $5 million more than is currently being spent on employee salaries.

Daniel also suggested restructuring the city-parish pay scale so that employees could earn more money at the beginning of their tenure, in order to attract and keep young, skilled employees. The city-parish would need to level out compensation by gradually withdrawing the generosity of other benefits, like the ability to hold on to accrued sick leave year over year, Daniel said.

Daniel said he doesn't expect changes to be reflected in the upcoming budget meetings, but hopes the council may begin to implement them by the end of the first quarter of next year. He emphasized the importance of making changes now, to avoid stress on the city's retirement system in the future.

"I'm not trying to set off any alarms, but if we keep going down this path, you're going to see more and more of these services privatized," Daniel said.

But some council members said they don't feel Daniel's plan goes far enough.
—Kelly Connelly Read the full story.

Walk-On's launches franchising program

Baton Rouge-based Walk-On's Enterprises has officially launched a franchising program for Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar and says it is seeking qualified franchisees in markets across the southeastern U.S.

"The next logical step in the evolution of Walk-On's is franchising, and now that we have the people, processes and policies in place, we're ready to roll," says Brandon Landry, co-founder of Walk-On's Enterprises, in a prepared statement. "Walk-On's has become an institution in Louisiana, and there's every reason to believe its success here will translate to neighboring states. Especially in college towns, where we have developed a distinctive niche and a lot of brand equity."

In August, the company announced it had made three hires in preparation for the franchising push. Scott Taylor, president and COO of Walk-On's Enterprises, says the company has “been flooded with inquiries from all over the country and abroad" since the August announcement.

Walk-On's currently has four locations in south Louisiana; two in Baton Rouge, one in Lafayette and another in New Orleans. The company recently scrapped plans for a scaled-down version of the restaurant and bar called Walk-On's Halfcourt on Third Street downtown, but it continues to look for another location downtown for the new concept. Walk-On's says it will serve as a model for future development in similar downtown sites and in airports, where it says "demand for the concept is building fast." —Steve Sanoski

Four Mid City neighborhoods to demo Complete Streets concept this weekend

The Bernard Terrace, Capital Heights, Valley Park and Webb Park neighborhoods will look a little different this weekend. To build on the Better Block demonstration that took place on Government Street last spring, the four neighborhoods are participating in a similar demo between Friday and Sunday to show the benefits of a proposed Complete Streets plan to improve bike and pedestrian traffic, increase safety and connectivity, and calm vehicular traffic.

The Center for Planning Excellence is spearheading this weekend's effort with the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors, the Department of Public Works, neighborhood associations, volunteers and students from the LSU landscape program to temporarily transform streets in the neighborhoods. The demo will coincide with a number of community events in the neighborhoods.

"Webb Park Civic Association is hosting a Wine Walk for the adults, and there will be a coordinated playdate for the neighborhood kids and running and cycling groups for our active residents," says CPEX Senior Vice President Camille Manning-Broome.

A complete map of demo areas and list of activities is available online.

"This kind of demonstration project will help build the case to make improvements like these permanent," says Herb Gomez, executive vice president of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors. "And improvements like these certainly help communities proactively increase property values."

As it works to incorporate Complete Streets on a permanent basis, CPEX says it is facilitating a support committee comprised of neighborhood representatives and coordinating efforts with the Capital Region Planning Commission, BREC, the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance and city-parish agencies. The Metro Council is expected to take up a Complete Streets ordinance later this year. —Steve Sanoski

'225 Weekender': Greater BR State Fair returns for 29th year today

As 225 Weekender reports, the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair is celebrating its 29th year as it kicks off its nearly two-week run today. The fun takes place at the Airline Highway Park/Fairgrounds, 16072 Airline Highway, featuring carnival rides, a petting zoo, racing pigs and fair grub. Tonight, attendees can also enjoy an appearance from magician Tim Spinosa and music from Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor. David St. Romain performs on Friday, Justin Garner on Saturday, and there will be many more performances. The fair runs daily through Sunday, Nov. 2. Gates open at 5 p.m. on weekdays and close at 10 p.m. The fair will be open from noon to 10 p.m. on weekends. Proceeds from the event will be donated back into the community through grants to organizations focusing on children and families. Gate admission is $5. Ride wristbands will be available for $25. Get the scoop on more local events on tap for this weekend in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter.

LSU Law Center boasts highest bar exam passage rate in La., 81.5%

With more than 80% of its students qualifying to practice law during the July bar exams, the LSU Law Center is boasting the highest passage rate among all of the state's law schools. LSU says 81.5% of all of its bar exam takers passed, including 85.8% of those taking the test for the first time.

LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss says he's especially pleased to see the percentage of students passing the exam on their first try increased by nearly 13 percentage points over last year's passage rate. The LSU Law Center also had the highest percentage of students passing the bar in July 2013, with a roughly 70% passage rate overall. This year's rate is more than 11 percentage points higher.

A total of 173 LSU students took the exam in July, with 141 passing and 32 failing. The next best law school in Louisiana for its passage rate was Tulane, which saw 77.8% of its 81 students who took the exam pass. The passage rate for Southern University was 56.3%, while Loyola had a 72.7% passage rate. Students from all other law schools in the state posted a collective 64.4% passage rate.

The LSU Law Center has more details on bar passage rates in July for all Louisiana law schools. —Steve Sanoski

'Business Report': Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. continues steady acquisition of La. firms

International insurance broker and claims administrator Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. has completed more than 300 acquisitions worldwide since 2002, including several well-established agencies in Baton Rouge.

As detailed in a feature from the current issue of Business Report, Mitch Brashier had only been with Broussard, Bush & Hurst for about a year when the firm became Gallagher's first Baton Rouge acquisition in 1991. He climbed the corporate ladder without leaving home to become Gallagher's regional president for 13 Southeastern states. So the deal obviously worked out for him.

While he recalls some trepidation (along with some excitement) about becoming part of the huge company, he says there wasn't much change to his work life after the merger.

"That's something that Gallagher does well," he says. "It's like you've been part of it the whole time."

There are about 38,500 independent insurance agencies in the United States, according to the 2012 Agency Universe Study. Many of those companies are headed by baby boomers ready to capitalize on their life's work, and many of them have become Gallagher's merger partners. But the global broker isn't interested in firms where the owner just wants to cash out and move on.

Gallagher's pitch is basically this: We'll let you maintain client relationships and run your office more or less as you always have but with the tools and resources of a multinational company at your disposal.

"When we get someone to join us, we're hoping one and one add up to three or four," Brashier says. "It doesn't do us any good to buy a book of business and it just makes us bigger but doesn't make us better."

Read the full feature. Send your comments to [email protected].

News roundup: Economists see limited gains in GOP plan … Shale boom's allure to Wall Street tested by bear market … Sunday now said to be best day to get lowest airline fares

Slow train coming: Anticipating a takeover of Congress, Republicans have assembled an economic agenda that reflects their small-government, anti-regulation philosophy but also suggests internal divisions that could hinder a united front against President Obama—much as happened in the 1990s, when a Republican-led Congress confronted President Bill Clinton. The New York Times reports the proposals would mainly benefit energy industries, reduce taxes and regulations for businesses generally, and continue the attack on the Affordable Care Act. It is a mix that leaves many economists, including several conservatives, underwhelmed. Read the full story.

Not dark yet: Falling oil prices are testing investors' commitment to the Wall Street-funded shale boom. Bloomberg reports energy stocks led the plunge earlier this month in U.S. equities and the cost of borrowing rose. The Energy Select Sector Index is down 14% since the end of August, compared with 3.8% for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. Investors' sentiment toward the oil and gas industry has "certainly changed in the last 30 days," says Ron Ormand, managing director of investment banking for New York-based MLV & Co., who has more than 30 years of experience in energy. "I don't think the boom is over, but I do think we're in a period now where people are going to start evaluating their budgets." Read the full story.

Learning to fly: Looking for an airfare deal? The Wall Street Journal reports your odds improve if you buy on the weekend. A new deep dive into airline fares suggests Sunday is the best day to find low fares. This is a departure from the conventional wisdom of recent years, when Tuesday was considered the best bet. Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets for travel agencies and handles about half of all tickets sold, tallied up ticket sales. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: LSU is currently conducting a board review of the best use for the 127 acres of land off Nicholson Drive that is currently home to the 18-hole LSU Golf Course. Do you think LSU could make better use of the land?

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