Lawyer and property manager Steve Myers knew he would have an uphill battle in his run to be the next mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish. But, as he tells WRKF's Amy Jeffries, he entered the race anyway to raise issues beyond crime and traffic that have been staples of the campaign.
MEYERS: I do think that the benefit of the election cycles and elections are as much the raising of issues as they are who we elect. The people who are elected do listen and they listen mostly during election season. I've taken great pleasure in saying something at one forum and then hearing another candidate co-opt it either in an advertisement or at the next forum in their own platform.
JEFFRIES: What's an example of that?
MYERS: I think the property rights issue is probably one that had the most impact. I rent property and we have a definition of "family" in East Baton Rouge in the zoning code that essentially prohibits three people from living together in Baton Rouge that are unrelated.
And I rent a lot to students. But not just to students, I rent to young professionals, who Baton Rouge says they want to keep in town. But the young professionals who don't want to live in an apartment complex can't live together in a house, say in the Garden District or in University Gardens cause it's three unrelated people.
I've been targeted by the government. They've sued two or three times - four times actually -- on properties like that. I think that's a waste of governmental resources and I think there's a lot of other things we should be worried about than who people live choose to live with, especially when they're not causing any problems.
JEFFRIES: Now, some people might look at that and say, you know, you're not coming in here as an ideologue with a new philosophy about what the property rights laws should be, or what maybe should be rolled back, but rather as someone who has a personal axe to grind because you've been sued over this thing.
MYERS: The personal axe to grind -- everybody has their own special interests, we're all special interests, okay? Just go read Mayor Holden's campaign finance reports and see who's contributed to his campaign. I mean, essentially they're people who get contracts from the government - architects, engineers. Now, that may not be a personal axe to grind, but it's certainly a special interest. They have an interest in somebody being in that office who might be friendly to their positions. Well, that's what voters do - they elect people who are friendly to their positions. And I've gotten a lot of encouragement and support from people for private property rights.
JEFFRIES: When you look at making some changes to the property laws, one of the problems certainly that has come up at some of these forums is the issue of blight. So what is the one ordinance that you would either leave on the books or put in place of what's there now to just address that problem more directly?
MYERS: I watch the council meeting and every month, they have condemnation hearings - I mean they can condemn a house already if a house needs to be condemned. If they can condemn a house they pretty much have control over it. If they can't then the question becomes, is it really the government's role to be able to come in and say that, "We think it's time for you to have a new roof," ?
When you put a new roof on, and you put a new coat of paint, you replace the floors and you do all this work, people need to understand that rental property is not all free money. And, like in any business, when your expenses outweigh your revenue, it's not a very good situation.
And I've talked to the landlords, and what they're going to do is if it becomes a point where it's not affordable to rent the house for $400 because you've got $800 a month expenses, they just won't rent it at all. They won't make the repairs and they'll have another vacant property.
JEFFRIES: So how do you get that roof fixed so that the rent becomes a reasonable economic proposition?
MYERS: My personal feeling is, is that instead of going in with the current philosophy of let's condemn all these properties, raise ‘em, knock ‘em all down, and bring in big developers and build big complexes that are gonna look pretty for a while and then turn into potentially slums, that they come -- we come up with some programs that would allow just a mom and pop to go into a place, buy a house, you know, spend their weekends fixing it up, now it may be taking the property tax and have an exemption on that property tax for 10 years or taking certain expenses and allowing them to deduct those expenses off of property taxes in a property in another area of town.
There's a lot of potential ideas out there. So this is something that would have to be studied, but I think, conceptually, it's got possibilities.
JEFFRIES: Steve Myers, you have been an advocate for limiting government and putting the focus primarily on public safety and infrastructure. So does that mean that if you were to be writing the budget for East Baton Rouge parish, that you would be putting more resources into public safety and into infrastructure?
MYERS: I'll give you a framework of what I believe: We should fund the core mission of local government 100 percent. The core mission, I think, is -- as you point out -- infrastructure, public safety. Mmk? Once those are under control, any quote leftover money can then go to things that I don't consider to be the core mission of government, and that's things like social services and economic development, even.
I noticed this past week... the arts and sciences museum. I'm not opposed to museums, but if ya spend a million dollars -- $850,000 - on the museum, and you've got, ya know, issues where people could actually be, lives could be saved or traffic could be moved, well, I don't consider the museum to be the core mission of local government. Maybe the Secretary of State could take that over.
JEFFRIES: Let's say the Secretary of State didn't step in or couldn't step in, would you still take that $850,000 and move it over to public safety or to infrastructure?
MYERS: Well, it depends on whether it's needed. Believe me, I'm not gonna be comin' in there and on day one, you know, issuing a lot of executive orders to cut funding. I'd probably take at least a year - at least a year -- to get it straight.
One of the things that I would definitely look at is the consolidation of the police, the sheriff and the constable. There's a lot of redundancy - you've got two retirement systems, you've got two corporate structures - so to speak - you know, mid-level management. I think that there would probably be duplication of services that we could find and that we could improve.
JEFFRIES: You are a supporter of the green light program, which has improved or expanded 28 parts of our road system here in East Baton Rouge. You've also said that you would support the loop concept to divert some traffic around Baton Rouge. But, beyond that, you're proposing to first address all of our congestion problems by adding some turn signals, by adding turn lanes, by perhaps creating a park-and-ride system. How quickly could those solutions, do you think, make a dent in Baton Rouge traffic?
MYERS: I'd say as quickly as they could do ‘em.
If we have an intersection like we have at East Boyd and Burbank where people take their lives in their hands every day. I was bypassed by a car the other day, came from three cars behind me, turning left into oncoming traffic because we were now on our fourth light cycle before you could make a left turn. I don't care how much money it costs, we're going to find the money to do those common sense things immediately.
JEFFRIES: Well, Steve Myers, candidate for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge, thank you for joining me and for sharing some of these thoughts about some different ideas of what we could do in Baton Rouge
MYERS: Thank you.