Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.jpg

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo says the accusations that he was involved in purposefully turning off the air conditioning or depriving attendees of concession stand goods during President Trump’s rally at the Monroe Civic Center last week are false and politicized.

Trump held a Keep America Great! rally at the Civic Center on Nov. 6, in part to bolster area support for his presidential re-election campaign but also to endorse Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone’s bid for governor. Trump and Rispone are Republicans.

Rispone will face Gov. John Bel Edwards in the general election Saturday. Like Edwards, Mayo is a Democrat.

After the Trump rally, several people took to social media to vent their frustration with the uncomfortably hot temperature inside the Civic Center. The sweat on Trump’s person was visible, and the president remarked on the temperature, too. Some people’s social media posts claimed the Civic Center was cool until Trump entered or that they had to leave the rally early because of the disagreeable temperature. A number of complaints on social media were pointed: Mayo ordered the air conditioning be turned off so that Trump and his supporters inside the Civic Center would have to sweat. If President Obama had held a rally there, the Civic Center’s temperature would have been cool and comfortable, one person said.

“I’ve been accused falsely of turning down the thermostat,” Mayo told The Ouachita Citizen Tuesday after the Monroe City Council’s meeting. “I don’t know where the thermostat is and I wasn’t there. Those accusations have been politicized.”

The matter first surfaced during the City Council’s regular meeting when City Council Chairman Juanita Woods argued the poor air conditioning could be overcome by building a new arena. For years, one of Mayo’s chief projects has entailed finding the money to pay for a new arena.

According to most recent estimates, Mayo wants to build a nearly $100-million arena.

“It was truly a historic moment for the city of Monroe, for a sitting president to visit Monroe,” Woods said. “I also understand there were comments about the temperature in the arena. That’s a segue for me to say we need a new arena in the city, one that accommodate a crowd like that.”

When asked about the cooling at the Trump rally, Mayo pointed The Ouachita Citizen to his prepared statement.

“The AC was on all day and it was never turned off,” said Mayo in a prepared statement. “The Trump Team opened the doors to let people in at 3 p.m. to start letting people in and the crowd was at ‘standing room only’ capacity.”

The Ouachita Citizen asked Mayo whether the Civic Center’s air conditioning was simply incapable of cooling the facility while hosting large events. In response, Mayo said, “The building is over 50-years-old. The complaints are unfortunate, but it does advocate for a new arena. Our staff said it was freezing earlier in the day, and when you get 10,000 people inside a building built to accommodate 5,000 to 7,000 people, that creates pressure on the system.”

In an interview with The Ouachita Citizen, City Councilman Michael Echols disputed the argument that the uncomfortable temperature was grounds to build a new arena.

“I don’t think it’s an excuse to build a new arena, but a matter of getting your air conditioning and heating working correctly,” Echols said.

Many people also complained of insufficient toilet paper in the restrooms, the lack of enough water at the city-operated concession stands, and the mounds of trash that piled out of the small trash cans made available to the crowds inside and outside.

Concerning the lack of water at the event, Mayo attributed the shortage to the Trump team.

“The Trump team told us when to cut off concession sales, in order to make sure the crowd was inside and giving the President their full attention when he came in,” said Mayo in his statement.

Mayo told the newspaper that an excess of garbage was expected at large events, whether for sports or politics.

“When you have 20,000 individuals, as it is with football or basketball games, there’s going to be a significant amount of trash,” Mayo said. “The Civic Center’s maintenance team did an awesome job cleaning it up. That happens with every event.”

Echols, who attended the Trump rally in Lake Charles as well as Trump’s rally in Monroe, pointed out the difference between the two events.

“In Lake Charles, there was no excess or residual trash, the heating and cooling was working, and the concessions appeared to be working,” Echols said. “I do think we were under prepared for trash collection and under prepared by way of concessions. The heating and cooling systems — it was dramatically hot in the facility, and it did seem that the a/c was cycling on and off.”

In other news, the City Council unanimously approved a $42.1-million project expanding and renovating the city’s water system.

Some 19.9 percent of the project work must be bid to minority businesses, according to the measure approved Tuesday.

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