In The News › 9 proposed home rule charter changes await St. Tammany voters on Nov. 21 ballot

9 proposed home rule charter changes await St. Tammany voters on Nov. 21 ballot

By Robert Rhoden

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

November 10, 2015

St. Tammany voters on Nov. 21 will consider nine proposed changes to the parish’s 17-year-old home rule charter, including a controversial provision regarding legal representation for the administration and Parish Council.

The Parish Council placed the proposed amendments on the ballot after considering about 20 recommendations by the appointed Home Rule Charter Committee, which spent six months reviewing the document and holding public meetings.

However, the proposed change that generated the most emotion and controversy during the process, term limits for council members, will not be on this ballot. That does not come before the parish’s voters until the spring of 2016.

The proposed changes on the Nov. 21 ballot:

1 – Language changes that would give the parish president more leeway to enter into cooperative endeavor agreements, inter-governmental agreements and memoranda of understanding. The change adds public or private associations, corporations and individuals to the list of those with whom the parish government can make such agreements.

2 – A provision calling for an automatic review of the charter every 15 years by an appointed charter committee. The committee would be made up of at least 11 members, with at least two of them being members of the Parish Council.

3 – Restricting public comment at council meetings to only those matters on the printed agenda.

4 – Allowing emergency ordinances to remain effective from council meeting to council meeting, instead of the current maximum of 30 days. The change would eliminate gaps that occur when there are more than 30 days between council meetings.

5 – Eliminating the requirement that the district attorney serve as legal counsel for the parish government and Parish Council. The parish president and council would be able to hire their own attorneys.

6 – Removing a paragraph that says the parish president can appoint and suspend or remove for just cause all parish employees and appointive administrative officers. The parish government does not have civil service and employees can be terminated at any time for any reason. The change is intended to make that clear.

7 – Deleting certain duties of the chief administrative officer. The deleted text references maintenance and upkeep of the computer informational system, building maintenance, public access TV channel, building supervision and personnel information.

8 – Removing charter provisions on personnel policies and procedures and adding language requiring the parish president to submit personnel policies and procedures in the form of an ordinance.

9 – Changing the deadline for the parish president to submit a proposed operating budget for the next year. The charter currently requires the budget submission at least 90 days before the start of the next fiscal year. The proposal would require the submission be made at the regularly scheduled council meeting in October
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Proposal No. 5 has been the most controversial.

Proponents of the change say the current arrangement presents potential conflicts of interest because the DA’s interests may clash with those of the parish president and council.

District Attorney Warren Montgomery opposes the measure. He supports the parish president having their own legal representation but said the DA’s office should continue to represent the Parish Council because the council has 14-part-time members with differing political philosophies and not enough staff support to manage their own legal staff.

The Bureau of Governmental Research is in favor of the change, saying it would eliminate potential conflicts.

BGR also examined two other proposed charter amendments and made recommendations:

No. 2 – Against. While mandatory review is important, the proposed charter advisory committee would lack independence from the Parish Council, the group says.

No. 8 – Against. Current charter language contains protection against the creation of a “spoils system’‘ by requiring the parish government hire the best qualified candidates, the group says. The amendment would remove that language. While current personnel ordinances require the hiring of qualified candidates and merit-based appointments and promotions, the Parish Council could change those provisions by amending the ordinances, BGR said.

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