Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, April 17, 2014

Holcomb interested in becoming planning director

Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb says he would "definitely" be interested in taking over the position on a full-time basis, as Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe is calling for, but adds he hasn't discussed the possibility with anyone yet. Loupe sent an email to his fellow council members on Wednesday recommending that the national search for the city-parish's next planning director—which has been ongoing since November—be ended and Holcomb be given the job. The ongoing search, which has lasted nearly five months, has seen its first choice for the position turn down the offer and one of its other top finalists withdraw her name, leaving only three finalists for consideration. Although Loupe is hoping to end the complicated search, Metro Councilwoman and Planning Commission chair Tara Wicker says appointing Holcomb—who has never officially applied for the position—as permanent director may in fact extend the selection process. "I'd be interested to see what the commissioners would think about that," she says, adding that she expects they will discuss the possibility at the meeting Monday. "I think we'd have to look into opening that process back up if we're going to entertain receiving additional candidates." Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas, executive director of the Center for Planning Excellence, says that reopening the process would be only fair. —Rachel Alexander Read the full story here.

Metro Council to consider annexation of Celtic, Costco and SAIF next week

After months of dealing with paperwork and red tape, Celtic Studios will appear before the Metro Council next week to formally request to be annexed into the city of Baton Rouge. The studio, which sits partially in the city and partially in an unincorporated portion of East Baton Rouge Parish, submitted its request this week to the council to be legally annexed into the city. The item has been placed on the agenda for Wednesday's Metro Council meeting. Also requesting annexation within the same petition are two businesses adjacent to Celtic—Costco, which is scheduled to open its new $12 million, 148,000-square-foot superstore on Friday next week—and SAIF Credit Union. City law requires that properties adjacent to a property petitioning for annexation be on board with the request. Law also requires that properties requesting annexation be located adjacent to the city limits. Annexation has become a hot-button issue since efforts began last year to incorporate parts of unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish into the city of St. George. In February, LSU officials confirmed they've been approached about annexation into the city. Celtic Studios Director Patrick Mulhearn says his annexation petition long predates the St. George debate and has nothing to do with the efforts to create a new city. "It just makes more sense for us," he says. "If we need law enforcement we only need one police department. If we need fire protection we only need one fire department. This is something we've been wanting for a long time." The Metro Council meets at 4 p.m. in the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. —Stephanie Riegel

Plan in the works to bring golf back to former Oaks at Sherwood

Pickles Kelly, owner and operating manager of Caddyshack Driving Range, Bar & Grill, is working with the new owners of the former Oaks at Sherwood Golf Course to reopen the 18-hole course that closed abruptly last summer. "It's not a done deal by any means, but we are definitely in discussions," says Ryan Dornier, who purchased the course in November with his father, Randy Dornier Sr., and brother, Randall Dornier Jr., about four months after the course was closed by its former owners. "If it's a win-win for everyone, then it's certainly something we'll be interested in." The Dorniers, who purchased the property with plans of turning part of it into a tennis center, have begun offering lessons and hope to open as a full membership tennis club this summer. The club will be named The Legacy at Bonne Esperance. Kelly, who is looking to lease the course from the Dorniers, says she has already heard from about 300 golfers who have expressed interest in purchasing a membership. "I'd really like to have it open before the summer, but we still have a lot of paperwork to go over and mother nature is going to play a part in this, too," says Kelly, who was out at the course today assessing the conditions. Regardless of when or if Kelly and the Dorniers come to an agreement to reopen the course, Dornier says the driving range on site will reopen, likely in the next month or two. —Steve Sanoski

Capitol Views: Union busting bill targets picketing

Following the lead of lawmakers in Michigan, Mississippi and elsewhere, state Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, is pushing legislation that would establish new rules and penalties for "mass picketing." In other states, unions are arguing that it's a clear attack on their rights to strike and protest. "I got the idea from the U.S. Chamber," Peacock tells LaPolitics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with local chambers in other states to push the concept, suggesting picketing can hurt companies if not controlled properly. Peacock's SB 551 would prohibit picketing if it prevents a person from pursuing employment opportunities; interferes with business entrances or roadways; or takes place on private property without permission. LaPolitics has more on the proposed penalties and the bill's committee assignment.

—Two lawmakers from outside Baton Rouge want more attention given to one of the city's most cherished landmarks. Capitol Lake, sometimes the first sight seen by visitors to nearby government buildings, needs a facelift, according to Republican Reps. Stuart Bishop of Lafayette and Chris Broadwater of Hammond. They've introduced HCR 47 to ask the Department of Environmental Quality to look into ways of cleaning up Capitol Lake. At one time it was used as a wastewater receiving body and as a drainage basin for facilities and roads located nearby. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls was so high that signs were posted along the banks warning people not to consume fish taken from the lake, according to the resolution. The resolution declares the situation "speaks badly of Louisiana's desire to put our best foot forward and our state agencies should take the lead in rectifying the situation." LaPolitics has more on the history of Capitol Lake and on the lawmakers behind the effort.

—With the chambers adjourned through the weekend, lawmakers are heading back to their districts for an Easter break from the action but will return to work late Monday afternoon, with the House convening at 4 p.m. and the Senate at 4:30 p.m.

(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

National group: EBR students on par with or outscoring peers

East Baton Rouge Parish School System students are on par with, or outscoring, students in 21 large urban school districts across the country, according to standardized test results analyzed by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools. Put simply, CGCS translated EBR's 2013 LEAP scores so that the scores are comparable to National Assessment of Education Progress results of other urban districts. Districts compared included Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. EBR Superintendent Bernard Taylor says the study was needed to see how local students, who do not participate in NAEP testing, stack up to their peers in other large urban districts. "The test results clearly demonstrate that EBRPSS students are performing on par or better than other school districts in the area and their national counterparts on state standardized assessments," CGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly says. The study shows that, for example, white EBR students ranked third on fourth-grade math tests, and white students eligible for free or reduced lunch ranked first in fourth-grade math. On the other hand, eighth-grade Hispanic students ranked last in math scores. Access the full study at the EBR system's website. —Staff report

Entrepreneur: Sally Calongne

Baton Rouge native Sally Calongne had returned to her hometown in 2009 after a four-year stint at a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, eager to re-enter the Capital Region tennis scene. As Business Report details in its new Entrepreneur feature on Calongne, she had played competitive tennis since childhood. After college, she coached women's tennis at LSU for five years. In short, she knew tennis. And area pro shops weren't offering what she needed: "My frustration arose from wanting to speak to a tennis expert about what equipment would be right for my game, my level," she says. None were present. Her local search for great tennis apparel was also fruitless. Tennis friends said they bought their outfits online or out of town. "I found myself complaining way too much about all of this. In May 2010 I had the idea to open a store and just dove into it," says Calongne, owner of Match Point Tennis & Fitness Boutique on Jefferson Highway. Read the full feature.

'225 Dine': LSU AgCenter Food Incubator to renovate, expand

Over the course of the past year, the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, which specializes in the development of local, emerging food ventures, has already outgrown its space at Clyde Ingram Hall. "We're booked every day," incubator director Gaye Sandoz tells 225 Dine. "The response has been enormous, not only from those who want to start their own business, but the general public. It's been incredible." For years, Sandoz had been waiting for Baton Rouge to pick up this type of program. Now, the incubator is in the process of expanding and doing renovations to its current LSU location. Another off-campus space is also in the works, she says. So far, the food incubator's clients have seen overwhelming success. Among the products to come out of the program are Ruth's Recipes hummus, Hanley Foods salad dressings and Elkarita drink mixer. With the help of food scientist Dr. Luis Espinoza, the tenants are learning how to formulate their products. Also through the program, the up-and-coming local food creators are learning how to get their product to the community. "We teach them how to market and how to calculate price points," Sandoz says. "We have the resources at LSU to help them expand their business very quickly." Get the scoop on more local culinary news in the latest edition of 225 Dine.

'Daily Report' Week in Review: City Pork changes hands, new road to The Grove could pave way for more retail development and much more

As first reported by Daily Report this morning, City Pork—the charcuterie that opened near the Perkins Road overpass in December—is under new ownership. The restaurant has been acquired by Exclamation Point Hospitality Group, a newly formed restaurant company that also owns Leroy's on Nicholson Drive and Frankie's Dawg House on Perkins Road. Developer Richard Carmouche has secured preliminary approval from the Federal Highway Administration to build a road that will connect his mixed-use development, The Grove, to the Interstate 10 service road that runs between Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane. "That is very important, ultimately," Carmouche told Daily Report this week. "It's not so important with what we are doing in phase one because we haven't built a lot of product yet, but it will be very important for future retail development." Meanwhile, Larry Bankston, attorney for the Amite River Basin Commission, told Daily Report this week that the Comite River Diversion Canal Project—which Congress originally approved in 1992 to lower flood stages along the Amite and Comite rivers—is finally gaining some momentum—as evidenced by the commission's $1.45 million purchase of approximately 66 acres for the project. —Steve Sanoski Read the complete Daily Report Week in Review.

Education chief: Testing critics don't have plan

Continued efforts to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers, Superintendent of Education John White says. Gov. Bobby Jindal supports legislation—so far defeated—that would jettison Louisiana's use of standardized testing from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, a consortium of states that developed the tests. Jindal said this week if lawmakers don't scrap the tests, he'd consider trying to remove Louisiana from the PARCC consortium himself. White tells The Associated Press that Jindal and other critics of PARCC don't have a viable option for what standardized tests they'd use instead. He says developing new tests would cost more money, adding there's no time with only a few weeks left in the school year. "This is when teachers historically are planning for next year. But without state and local leadership giving them clarity about what they should be teaching, they are existing in a state of chaos," White says. The new standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year. Field testing was done earlier this month with nearly 25,000 students across 500 schools taking sample versions of the tests. Eight lawmakers sent Jindal a letter Monday asking the Republican governor to end Louisiana's use of the PARCC tests. Jindal called the proposal "a viable option if the Legislature does not act." Read the full story.

News roundup: Bond Commission backs Jindal's plan for surplus cash … Former drilling chief says US 'on a course to repeat' Gulf oil spill … Ex BP-employee settles US insider-trading charges

Sounds like a plan: Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing today of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work. The Associated Press reports the plan uses dollars that are limited in how they can be spent to pay off debt early. The pre-payment tactic frees up the same amount of unrestricted, state general fund money in the 2014-15 budget to spend on state operating expenses in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Read the full story.

Prognosticator of doom: The U.S. is "on a course to repeat" the same mistakes that led to the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster four years ago, a former top offshore drilling regulator is warning. In an opinion piece in The New York Times, the former Minerals Management Service director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, says the Obama administration "still has not taken key steps … to increase drilling safety." FuelFix.com has more on the op-ed and industry reaction to it.

It's a deal: A former BP employee who was a coordinator during the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf has agreed to settle federal charges of using confidential information on the seriousness of the spill to profit illegally from trading in BP stock. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the settlement of civil insider-trading charges with Keith Seilhan, saying he agreed to pay $224,118. Seilhan neither admitted nor denied the SEC's allegations but agreed to refrain from future violations of securities laws. The Associated Press has the full story.

Editor's note: In observance of the holiday, Daily Report will not be published on Friday, and will return on Monday. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.
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