Hamilton New Head Of Baton Rouge Blight Agency

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Longtime public servant Gwen Hamilton has been appointed to lead the struggling East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority, a public agency fighting to stay afloat financially as it fights blight.

         The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen reports the authority's board approved Hamilton in an interim capacity with a salary of $75,000. The board said it would revisit her compensation package after three months, and could potentially increase her salary to as high as $100,000 per year.

         "You're just the person we need for the job," board chairman John Noland told Hamilton at the meeting.

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         She officially starts work Dec. 1.

         Hamilton succeeds Walter Monsour, who resigned earlier this month following a report by The Advocate that his son's law firm received about $190,000 in contracts with firms that received public funds from the authority.

         Like Monsour, Hamilton has worked with Mayor-President Kip Holden as an administrative officer. While in the mayor's office, she oversaw the Office of Community Development, a department with goals similar to the Redevelopment Authority in that it provides services and programs to improve low-income housing and targets blighted communities.

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         Hamilton stepped down from the mayor's office in 2013 to do consulting work. She has previously served as an administrator for both the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

         The Legislature created the Redevelopment Authority in 2007 and it's tasked with eliminating blighted areas and increasing affordable housing options in low-income areas.

         In September, Monsour announced the authority had no money to take on additional redevelopment projects or for simple operational needs like paying salaries. The board subsequently asked the Metro Council to appropriate $3 million to the agency in the city-parish budget, a move that puts it at odds with Holden.

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         Holden said the authority hasn't proved its worth and insinuated that Monsour, his former friend and close political adviser, hadn't been an effective enough leader to get the agency off its feet. Holden also publicly criticized Monsour's salary — $265,000 with a $100,000 benefit package that made up more than one-third of the authority's operating budget.

         Moving forward, the agency still needs to secure funding.

         Hamilton said she is going to work on educating the community about the important work of the agency. "The value of the RDA has to be permeated through the community," she said.

         At this point, Hamilton said she's not sure whether the city-parish is "viable option" for funding.

         Noland said in an interview that he is turning his energy to the next mayoral administration since it seems apparent that Holden is not going to commit funds to the authority during his tenure.

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