Tania Nyman, a native of Louisiana, first became involved in community advocacy in 2012 when she joined with other parents to oppose the creation of a breakaway school district in East Baton Rouge Parish. Since then she has worked with a variety of advocacy organizations and has gained a greater understanding of issues affecting the broader community.
Prior to becoming involved in volunteer advocacy, Tania was an instructor in the Department of English at Louisiana State University. She earned her Master of Fine Arts from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. While a graduate student, she was a member of DC WritersCorps, an AmeriCorps organization which sponsored writing workshops in “traditionally underserved communities” in the Washington DC area. While a WritersCorps member, Tania taught writing workshops in centers serving individuals who were homeless as well as DC public schools. For her elementary and secondary education, she attended New Orleans public schools. She earned her high school diploma from Benjamin Franklin High School and a BA in English Literature from the University of New Orleans.
Tania and her husband of 23 years have two sons, both of whom attend East Baton Rouge Parish public schools.
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What is your response to the Black Lives Matter movement?
I agree. Black lives do indeed matter.
What do you think needs to be done to promote social and racial justice?
This is a difficult topic for me to address in the abstract, even though I have spent a great deal of time reading about issues of social and racial justice and doing what I can within even my limited power to make this a more just and more equitable world. Forgive me if the following response seems unsatisfying, but I believe it’s the most appropriate for this rhetorical context.
To promote social and racial justice, we need more thoughtful discussions about how even seemingly race-neutral policies institutionalize racism in our laws and public institutions. We also need more thoughtful discussions about how the existence of institutionalized racism hurts the vast majority of us of every race. The burden certainly falls heavier on people of color, but it also hurts white people, particularly those in the lower and middle income brackets. Routing out racism is not a zero sum game. We will all benefit.
We need more people to have this shared understanding. Only then will we be able to organize a broad-based coalition capable of making the necessary changes so we can promote social and
racial justice and fulfill the promise put forth in the U.S. Constitution of equal opportunity for all.
Are you in favor of police reform? If so, what should it look like?
Every reader is going to have a different understanding of the term “police reform,” so rather than discuss whether or not I am in favor of some vague notion of “reform,” I’d like to discuss one thing we need to do to improve the relationship specifically between the Baton Rouge Police Department and the residents of the City of Baton Rouge.
To improve this relationship we must restore the social compact between the BRPD and city residents. This social compact has been eroded by the community’s inability to hold the Department accountable, and that is largely due to changes that were made to the Plan of Government in the early 1980s.
It is important that a law enforcement agency be accountable to the citizens it is charged with protecting. In order for an agency to be accountable, its leader must be accountable to the public. This establishes the social compact necessary for a healthy relationship. The community must accept the authority of the leader, and to accept that authority, they must have the ability to reject that authority—to compel a change in leadership if their faith in an authority is lost.
In most cities in East Baton Rouge Parish, this mutual respect—the social compact—is established by allowing citizens to elect the police chief. In the cities of Zachary, Central, and Baker, the police chiefs are elected. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff is elected by voters parish-wide.
In contrast, the Baton Rouge Police Department police chief is appointed. If he (or she) were appointed by a governing body composed of members elected only by city residents, then city residents could still to some degree hold him accountable. Unfortunately, since the early ‘80s, the police chief has been appointed by the Metro Council, which is composed of members elected parish-wide not just city-wide. This is one of the fundamental problems created by the changes made in the ‘80s to the Plan of Government.
Prior to 1982, the city-parish government was governed by two separate but overlapping councils: a city council and a parish council. The city council was elected by city residents. The parish council consisted of the city council members and additional members elected by voters in the unincorporated area. And the police chief in Baton Rouge was appointed by the city council. The decision was made by representatives elected only by city residents.
But in the early ‘80s, the city council of Baton Rouge was merged with the parish council of East Baton Rouge Parish (notably around the same time that the Baton Rouge Police Department was placed under a federal consent decree). This shift in governance eroded the city residents’ ability to hold their police chief accountable. No longer was he appointed by a city council which solely represented city residents. Instead, the police chief was appointed by the Metro Council, whose composition over the years increasingly gave more weight to voters outside the city limits. And since the Metro Council also controlled the Police Department’s budget, city residents were no longer able to exercise appropriate influence on the governance of the BRPD.
In order for city residents to hold the leader of their law enforcement agency accountable—for the social compact to be restored, this oversight must be re-established. The BRPD Police Chief must be either elected by city residents, or at the very least, appointed by only those members of the Metro Council who represent city residents. And the budget of the BRPD must also be administered only by those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or by the police chief. (Currently the majority of the BRPD budget is funded through the General Fund, which is subject to the approval of the entire Metro Council. In order to restore the social compact, the BRPD should primarily be funded by a city tax approved and paid by voters who live within Baton Rouge city limits. And the decision to place that tax on a ballot should not rest with the entire Metro Council. It should rest with only those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or possibly with the duly elected police chief.)
Any effort to merge the Baton Rouge Police Department with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office should be vehemently opposed. Residents in the City of Baton Rouge deserve the same right as residents in the other municipalities in East Baton Rouge Parish to have their own dedicated law enforcement agency. Merging the BRPD with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office deprives them of this right and subjects them to the authority of a law enforcement agency over which they cannot exercise sufficient oversight. It erodes the social compact essential to a healthy relationship. It undermines Baton Rouge city residents’ right to self-governance.
And further complicating the proposal to merge these law enforcement agencies is the issue of the proposed City of St. George, whose leaders declared their intention of relying solely on the EBRSO for its own police force. Expecting Baton Rouge City residents to underwrite the cost for the proposed city’s police protection is yet another example of how incorporating the City of St. George would cause the City of Baton Rouge economic harm.
What are your thoughts on how the U.S. has responded to the coronavirus pandemic? What would you want to be done differently?
As a candidate for the Metro Council, I believe it’s more relevant to discuss how our local government has responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Some have questioned the mayor’s authority to issue mandates without the Metro Council’s approval. Under normal conditions, I might agree. However, during a public health emergency, I do believe it is necessary for the mayor to have the power to issue such mandates. Lives are at stake. Steps need to be taken to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. At such times, the Metro Council is too inefficient for the quick action needed. If a mayor were to abuse this privilege, then the Metro Council could take action to oppose any mandates deemed excessive.
I do not believe Mayor Broome’s mask mandate is excessive. Masks do not significantly encroach on our civil liberties, and public health officials have demonstrated their effectiveness at curtailing the spread of the virus.
It’s worth noting that while I support the Mayor’s issuance of a mask mandate, I believe her decision to re-open bars was a bit premature. Nonetheless, I recognize it was within her authority to do so.
Do you support more stimulus money? If so, how should Congress pay for the stimulus?
I do support more stimulus money. The federal government should provide direct payments to individuals; additional unemployment insurance payments; aid to state and local governments, including direct payments to municipalities of all sizes; and support for small businesses. Such a stimulus is necessary to stabilize and revitalize the economy. The economic activity it would generate would offset its cost, and therefore, it’s premature to consider how best to pay for it. The economic fallout of failing to provide such a stimulus would be far more costly to the U.S. than the investment.
What do you believe is the biggest issue constituents in the district you are running for are facing?
These are unusual times. The number of contentious issues at the national and state level can seem overwhelming. We may feel like those issues require our full attention. However, for those of us in District 12 and in East Baton Rouge Parish, there is one issue that we must not overlook: the proposed City of St. George.
The fate of St. George is not assured, but regardless of the outcome—whether or not it is approved by the courts—we must contend with the issues the proposed city exposed, and if created, the issues it will exacerbate. And we must do everything in our power to ensure that if the new city is incorporated, then the negotiated settlement between it and the City-Parish is equitable and just.
The proposed City of St. George will cause economic harm to the people in District 12 as it will to the parish as a whole, including to those who live within the limits of the proposed city.
In their proposal, the Committee for the Incorporation of St. George openly states their conclusions in support of the proposed city are based on a number of “Significant Assumptions.” Most of these assumptions are faulty and unreasonable. Their most unreasonable assumption is that the new city will not be required to compensate the City-Parish for the fair market value of the infrastructure the City-Parish as a whole paid for.
St. George residents did not build the original infrastructure that allowed for the population growth in that area. The City-Parish did. And it’s important to know the history behind the City-Parish’s decision to invest in that infrastructure.
Originally city revenue could only be spent developing infrastructure within city limits. But in the late 80s, there was an amendment to the Plan of Government, and in the early 90s, the Metro Council adopted the Horizon Plan. In conjunction, these two policies allowed city revenue to be spent in the unincorporated area without requiring the area to be annexed into the city limits. At the time, the unincorporated area now known as St. George was undeveloped and sparsely populated. But the investment of city revenue spurred the growth of the major retail hubs and population growth followed.
St. George organizers are now proposing to walk away with the infrastructure without compensating the City-Parish for it.
Reasonable people recognize such a proposal would cause the City of Baton Rouge and the remainder of the parish economic harm. It’s not the only economic harm, but the harm is undeniable and should be sufficient grounds for prohibiting the incorporation of the new city.
Louisiana law prohibits a new city from causing economic harm to any other municipality or city-parish resident and requires cities to provide certain services to its residents. According to their own proposal, the City of St. George cannot afford to do both. Their ability to provide the city services to their residents is dependent upon their ability to cause the City of Baton Rouge and the remainder of the Parish economic harm.
The plaintiffs who filed suit against the proposed city’s incorporation were right to do so. Hopefully, the court will rule in their favor. If it does not, then we must fight for a negotiated settlement that mitigates the economic harm it will cause to the people in the rest of the parish and in District 12. We must demand the new city pay the fair market value for the infrastructure as well as its fair share of legacy costs and bonded indebtedness. I commit to that fight.
What are the principles of your campaign and why?
I have been involved in community advocacy in East Baton Rouge Parish for more than eight years. I sincerely believe the knowledge I have gained from working with a variety of organizations has prepared me to be an effective Metro Councilmember. However, I understand if I am elected I would be only one person on a Council of 12. I cannot promise to single-handedly address the inequities in our community. I cannot promise that we will always agree. But I can promise I am devoted to doing everything in my power to help make this a better world. That is my objective. And I hope that by serving on the Metro Council I can help get us one step closer to the “Beloved Community.”
Why do you feel that you are the perfect candidate for metro council?
I don’t believe I am a perfect candidate, but I do believe I am the best candidate for the District 12 Metro Council seat, particularly for this next term. Because of my experience as a longtime advocate in East Baton Rouge Parish and my familiarity with the issues, I am in the best position to be a strong advocate for the people of District 12 and the parish as a whole.