In The News › Davis opposes group’s charter tweaks

Jun 18, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, St. Tammany Parish

Davis opposes group’s charter tweaks

Davis opposes group’s charter tweaks
Citizens’ suggestions ‘not the right way’
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
By Charlie Chapple
St. Tammany bureau

St. Tammany President Kevin Davis told local business leaders Tuesday that he opposes term limits for members of the Parish Council and is against reducing the size of the parish governing body.

Constituents “do know the issues,” Davis said during a breakfast meeting of the St. Tammany-West Chamber of Commerce. “If you don’t do your job, they won’t re-elect you.”

And “I don’t see why you would consider going to a smaller number” of members on the Parish Council, Davis said, because it could result in smaller communities losing their voice in parish government.

Davis was one of four people invited by the chamber to discuss Home Rule Charter changes proposed by a citizens committee headed by the League of Women Voters of St. Tammany and the Tammany Together citizens group.

Although Davis spoke for fewer than five minutes because of time constraints, the parish president pooh-poohed most of the major charter changes suggested by the committee, including a two-consecutive-term limit for Parish Council members and a reduction in the size of the council from 14 district members to nine district members and two at-large members.

Davis said later that he is not against proposing changes to the charter, which has been in effect since 2000. But having a “small group of people” suggest changes “is not the right way to fix it,” he said. Any changes, he said, should be suggested through an official public process such as a charter commission or the Parish Council.

Rick Wilke of Tammany Together, a proponent of the changes and a panelist at the chamber breakfast, noted later that Davis “was very negative” toward the proposals. He said the league begged the Parish Council to appoint a commission or an official committee to review the charter and propose amendments.

The council instead told the league members to make recommendations that would be reviewed by the council. So the league formed an ad hoc citizens committee and held meetings, which were open to the public, Wilke said. Some council members attended the sessions, and Davis “was certainly welcome to attend the meetings,” Wilke said.

The committee last month presented its recommendations to the council, which is expected to set a July 30 special meeting to discuss the proposals. What, if any, proposals get on the ballot remains to be seen because it takes a supermajority of 10 council members to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

Wilke said the citizens group is hoping that the council, after a round of public meetings, puts a package of proposed amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot. “All we’re asking for is two things,” Wilke said. “Hold some public meetings to give it more exposure.” And put propositions on the ballot that reflect the outcome of the public hearings, he said. Ultimately, “we want citizens to decide which changes they want,” he said.

Council members so far have been mostly mum on the proposals, saying they want to keep an open mind for the July 30 special meeting. Davis was the first parish official to take a public stand against the proposals. He noted that 10 of the 14 Parish Council members are in their first or second terms. The perception that an incumbent can’t be ousted from office is not valid, he said.

Davis also said a proposal that would allow the parish to hire its own legal counsel, instead of using the district attorney’s office as mandated by the charter, is unnecessary. The parish hires whom it wants, and that person simply becomes an assistant district attorney, he said.

Davis said a suggested major overhaul of parish planning procedures isn’t needed.

The planning changes, suggested by the citizens committee with the help of the Bureau of Governmental Research, would turn New Directions 2025, the parish’s current long-range plan, from an advisory to a legally binding document that would have to be reviewed and updated every two years.

It would make the Planning and Zoning commissions a single body with nine members, instead of 11, and would create a committee of planning experts and residents to nominate people to serve on the body.

The package of changes would help take politics and chaos out of parish planning decisions, said Peter Reichard, a research analyst for the Bureau of Governmental Research.

. . . . . . .

Charlie Chapple can be reached at cchapple@timespicayune.com or (985) 898-4828.

Jun 18, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, St. Tammany Parish

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