Why We Have City-Parish Government

Unlike that of our rugged pioneer forefathers, life in our complex modern society has become one of interdependence. With the growth and development of population centers (cities) replacing the sparsely settled areas of our country, demands for services that could not be provided by individuals increased. This brought on the need for orderly government, a government of laws, administered by men elected by a majority from among the people to be governed.

Roads & Transportation

There are changes in modern living other than the interdependence of people for goods and services. Conditions of today have vastly increased the services we require from government. Not long ago the roads supported only foot and horse traffic. The heaviest loads were buggies and wagons.

Today, we have high speed automobiles. Faster travel was not all the automobile brought. It produced more traffic and complicated traffic problems. Trucks and buses required improved roads and streets. Providing parking space in cities became difficult.


Problems multiplied, as urban areas grew. More policemen were needed. Street lights and traffic signals became necessary. Full-time, paid fire departments replaced volunteer fire companies, as town sizes kept mushrooming. A short time ago sanitary needs of small communities did not require modern sewer systems. People had plenty of room and could dispose of their own garbage.

In the old days, local government provided few services. Today, public works departments are expected to provide many services. Management of the services of local governments soon became big business. Demands for new services found local government inadequate. Local and municipal governments consisting of a few part-time public officials and employees could not do the job.

Economic Boom

Following World War II, thousands of new families flocked to East Baton Rouge Parish from across the nation to obtain the many new highly skilled jobs available from the expanding industries and businesses. This economic boom projected Baton Rouge into one of the leading industrial, educational and business centers of the south. The population pushed outward from the narrow city limits and sprawled over into new subdivisions just outside the city limits.

The city limits in 1949 ran roughly to Terrace Street on the south, to Baton Rouge High School on the east and to Choctaw Road on the north. On the west it stopped at the Mississippi River, as it does today. More than two-thirds of the entire population lived immediately outside the limits in unincorporated areas of the parish.

Early Government

Until 1949, a loose and uncoordinated form of government known in Louisiana, as a police jury, struggled with the affairs of parish government. Representatives from wards or districts of the parish met from time to time to deal with these affairs. Under severe limitations, it attempted to provide the parish with improvements in roads, drainage, sewage and other facilities. The City of Baton Rouge constituted two wards of the parish and so was represented on the police jury.

The city had a government of its own which provided most of its services and facilities, it had a fire department and a police department, for example. However, the highly populated area outside of the two wards in the old city limits lacked many city services. Service was generally poor where it was provided at all. For protection against fire, this larger area depended upon the willingness of the City Fire Department and availability of fire fighting equipment.

State Constitution Amendment

At the end of World War II, people in the parish and city turned their attention to these problems. An amendment to the state constitution was obtained authorizing a charter commission to draft a new form of government to be presented to the voters. The commission was given wide power including authority to propose consolidation of the city and parish governments.

At an election on August 12, 1947, the voters of both the parish and the city adopted the presented Plan of Government. The vote was 7,012 to 6,705, the total being slightly over one-third of voters registered and eligible to vote. The plan, which went into effect on January 1, 1949 abolished the police jury and the city commission council. It extended the city limits and substituted a consolidated system of a mayor and council for city and parish.

East Baton Rouge Plan

A new and fundamentally different plan for coping with the problems of metropolitan development was inaugurated in the Parish (county) of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 1, 1949. Although it had been devised by some of the best minds in local government and reviewed by the most capable legal talent available, it was nonetheless and untried practical political and governmental experiment. There was, in fact no example by which those responsible for its implementation and administration might chart their course.

The fact that the Plan still exists (with but minor amendment) and that under it great strides have been, and are being, made in meeting and solving the problems of Greater Baton Rouge, is a tribute not only to its drafters, but to the tenacity and courage of those elected officials charged with the responsibility of carrying out its provisions. It is fair to say that the Plan of Government for the City of Baton Rouge and the Parish of East Baton Rouge has long since been accepted by the community for which it was developed, and that under it, major improvements have been carried out which without it could not have been developed on a metropolitan basis.

Reasons for Consolidation

In order to properly understand and evaluate the consolidation of local government in East Baton Rouge Parish beginning January 1, 1949 (and its achievements since that date), it is necessary to consider and appreciate the factors leading up to and primarily responsible for that consolidation. Like so many other industrial communities, Baton Rouge had experienced accelerated growth during the war years. In 1945, the incorporated City of Baton Rouge contained an area of slightly more than 5-square miles and a population of 35,000 to 40,000 persons. The remainder of the urban population was in the unincorporated parish territory. The parish governing body was called the "Police Jury;" it operated under restrictive statutory provisions and was poorly equipped for providing urban services, or for controlling the development of an urban area. While the limited incorporated city area had provided certain urban improvements for its inhabitants, most of these improvements had originally been constructed in 1924 to 1925, and were beginning to break down under the increased demand being placed on them.

Governmental and physical development, as such had thus reached a standstill for the City of Baton Rouge could not provide for the needs of the increased population when the vast majority of that population was outside of the city limits, and the parish governing authority, on the other hand, was not legally equipped to do so. Several alternatives were possible. Additional municipalities could be created to serve the new areas, or additional legislation could be sought which would permit the creation of districts under the Police Jury for the purpose of supplying municipal services to these new areas. Neither plan provided a satisfactory solution for all of the problems, since obviously the continued decentralization through districts or by the creation of additional municipalities would only make more difficult a solution needed in the best interest of the whole community. If the problem was to be met, and over-all development of the community achieved, a new metropolitan legal structure was required.

City-Parish Charter Commission

Recognizing that no satisfactory solution could be found in the existing constitutional and statutory provisions, interested citizens proposed an amendment to the Constitution, which, upon its adoption by the entire electorate, in November 1946, became Article 14, Section 3 (a), of that document. This constitutional provision authorized the creation of a "City-Parish Charter Commission," which was vest with the authority to develop a "Plan of Government" to be submitted to the people of the Parish for adoption. The Charter Commission was limited only by the "Constitution and laws" of the State of Louisiana with respect "to the powers and functions of local government." The work of the Commission, and of its technical advisors, resulted in the development of a plan of government which consolidated, coordinated and streamlined the functions of local government. 

The plan was adopted by the people of the parish on August 12, 1947 to become effective January 1, 1949. Basically, it accomplished and provided for the following things:

  • It extended the city limits of the City of Baton Rouge from approximately five square miles to approximately 30 square miles, so as to include within the City of Baton Rouge a major portion of the residential areas of the parish.
  • It provided for a Mayor-President Council form of government. The Mayor-President, as the Chief Executive was vested with responsibility for the administrative work of the government. His unusual title stems from the fact that he is the Mayor of the City of Baton Rouge and the President of the Parish Council.
  • It consolidated the major departments of government.
  • It created urban, industrial and rural areas for taxing purposes.
  • It provided that no additional municipalities could be created thus eliminating the possibility of competing jurisdictions. Two small municipalities some distance from the City of Baton were continued in existence. (This provision has since been deleted).

Changes to the Plan of Government

In any event, almost immediately after January 1, 1949, certain opposition groups, taking advantage of the unfriendly attitude of those persons living in the annexed areas, began to seek substantive changes in the Plan of Government. It would be safe to say that during the first four years there was more litigation concerning the operation of government in the Parish of East Baton Rouge than it its entire history.

Among other things, the new government was unable to secure operating funds until the validity of the Plan of Government had been judicially determined. A declaratory judgment suit for this purpose was instituted contradictory with the Attorney General of the State of Louisiana. In the case of State ex. rel. Kemp vs. City of Baton Rouge, 215 La. 315,40 So. 2d 477, the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana held that the Plan of Government was valid.

Bartholomew Report

As a direct result of the Plan of Government, and the centralized effort made it possible in dealing with over-all plans and problems, the face of Baton Rouge has indeed been changed. The Bartholomew Report recommended the adoption of a comprehensive zoning ordinance. This was done in 1950, and the original ordinance has since been extended to the entire parish. The Bartholomew Report recommended more stringent regulation of the subdivision of land. A city subdivision ordinance was adopted early in 1949, and a comprehensive ordinance regulating subdivision development in both the parish and city was approved in 1955. As a result, when new areas are annexed to the city, the public facilities already meet recognized standards.

While much has been accomplished, problems still exist and will always exist in any healthy, growing community. There still exists a Sheriff's Office and City Police Department with overlapping jurisdiction. The operation of certain so-called "constitutional offices" remains outside the effective control of the local government, even though the local government is required to advance substantial sums annually to the support of these offices. Because of constitutional limitations, separate civil service systems exist for the fire and police departments, which prevents an adequate over-all integration of classified personnel.

Excerpt from R. Gordon Kean, Jr.
Parish Attorney
Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Amendments to Plan

  • The city and parish were governed under the original plan until a few minor technical changes were approved in 1952.
  • In 1956, in order to further strengthen the Plan of Government, the people of East Baton Rouge Parish approved several other amendments to the City-Parish Charter. The most significant amendment to authorize a limited veto power to the Mayor-President. However, the new amendment empowered the City-Parish Councils to override a veto by a two-thirds majority. At this time the voters also authorized the creation of a new post of Administrative Assistant to the Mayor-President, since the duties of this high office had become so complex. The assistant relieves the Mayor-President of many routine duties.
  • In 1964, City-Parish voters approved an amendment to the Plan of Government providing for the election of two councilmen from Ward Two instead of one. Thus, the total membership of the Parish Council increased from nine to ten. The amendment also provided for adding councilmen after the Federal Census. As a result, an additional councilman was elected for Ward Three at the General Election held February 1, 1972 increasing the number to eleven.
  • In 1966, the voters of the parish approved further amendments to the charter. Several technical changes which serve to facilitate the workings of the government were approved. Also approved was the establishment of $300 as the monthly compensation for City-Parish Councilmen. At this time, The voters also approved the creation of a new unclassified position to be designated as Council Budget Officer and to be appointed by the Parish Council.
  • In 1970, Section 2.07 was amended in order to provide for the councilmen to take the oath of office on January 2nd rather than January 1st. Other proposed amendments failed to be approved by the voters.
  • On February 1, 1972, the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to amend Section 2.01 relative to composition of the governing body. This amendment was necessary for compliance with the one man-one vote requirement. As a result, 12 single-member districts were created by the Council. In addition, Section 9.12 was amended to extend veterans' preference to all veterans and Section 1.10 was amended to provide for expansion of industrial areas. Eleven other amendments were proposed but were rejected by the voters.
  • On October 27, 1979 the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to:
    • Change the name of the Parish Clerk to Council Administrator
    • Provide for penalties for the violation of any ordinance or regulation
    • Provide for the President Pro-Tempore to preside over the meetings of the Council with the right to speak and vote
    • Provide that neither Council levy any new sales taxes without a majority vote of the electorate
  • On September 11, 1982, the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to amend the entire Plan of Government with specific reference to Section 2.01. The voters approved the consolidation of the city and parish councils into one governing body called the Metropolitan Council. The Council members are elected from single member districts.
  • On April 16, 1988, the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to amend the Plan of Government to provide for a comprehensive master land use and development plan or more commonly known as the "Horizon Plan."
  • On October 6, 1990 the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to amend Section 9.02 of the Plan of Government to increase the membership for the Personnel Board from three to five members (one elected from the Department of Public Works employees and one elected from the non-Department of Public Works employees) and the remaining three to be appointed by the Metropolitan Council.
  • On November 18, 1995 the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish voted to provide for term limits for the Metropolitan Council and Mayor-President, limiting service to no more than 3 consecutive terms of office, commencing January 1, 1997 and thereafter.
  • On November 5, 1996 Section 5.04 of the Plan of Government was amended so, as to delete the requirement that the Director of Public Works be a licensed engineer in the State of Louisiana provided that the second highest ranking official in the department is so licensed. Additional qualifications include at least five years practical experience in public works or highway administration, a college degree (including completion of courses in engineering, business management or public administration management) and at least ten years administrative experience in public works administration.