In The News › Jefferson Parish board ends charter review, sets up public hearings for May 20, 23

May 6, 2013

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish board ends charter review, sets up public hearings for May 20, 23

By Manuel Torres, / The Times-Picayune
May 6, 2013

A Jefferson Parish charter review group made mostly small changes to a host of recommendations Monday night, paving the way for public hearings on the proposed charter amendments later this month. The board set hearings for May 20 and 23.

In the only substantial debate Monday, the Charter Advisory Board rejected a proposal by Chris Cox, the parish’s chief operating officer, to strike a provision making it a misdemeanor to “refuse to obey” a Parish Council subpoena during an investigation.

Cox also proposed to “narrow the language” of what the council can investigate, by deleting language that lets the council probe parish employees for “lack of qualifications, incompetence, neglect of duty, failure to comply with a lawful directive of the council.”

“The council should be using this as a last resort, if you will, for egregious violations,” Cox said.

But Chairman Louis Gruntz said voters approved the language expanding the council’s investigation powers in 2011, when they also created the inspector general’s office. “We just approved it two years ago,” Gruntz said.

The board ultimately opted for removing only the council’s ability to probe employees for “incompetence,” preserving the rest of the investigative powers.

The board has spent months gathering input from the public and parish officials as it conducted a decennial review of the parish’s main law. Its recommendations will go to the Parish Council, which can reject, amend or adopt each proposed charter change. The changes the council endorses would go to the ballot: Voters have the final say on any charter amendment.

The board rejected several proposals from Parish President John Young to shift powers from the council to the president. Board members also rejected a push by the Bureau of Governmental Research to reduce the council’s political discretion in parish contracting.

The Charter Advisory Board scheduled the following hearings:

- Monday, May 20, 7 p.m., at the council chambers at the General Government Building, 200 Derbigny St., Gretna. – Thursday, May 23, 7 p..m, at the Parish Council Chambers in the Joe S. Yenni Building, 1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., Elmwood.

At the May 23 session, the board is also scheduled to decide on any additional changes after the public hearings. That means the board would forward its final report to the Parish Council for its June 12 meeting.

The changes the charter board endorsed in its months-long review include:

- Banning parish presidents from receiving any outside income, other than gains from passive investments. The recommendation seeks to prevent the kind of corruption found during the administration of former Parish President Aaron Broussard, who began serving almost four years in prison Monday for taking bribes from a contractor, among other offenses.

- Setting minimum qualifications for parish attorney’s office employees, to prevent abuses such as Broussard’s maneuver to have his then-wife hired as a paralegal even though she lacked proper qualifications.

- Making all “employees in the service of the parish attorney” unclassified workers, meaning they would serve at the pleasure of the parish attorney. Assistant parish attorneys, paralegals and legal clerks are already unclassified. The change would affect about 20 support workers, and future employees.

- Letting Inspector General David McClintock keep surplus money in a reserve fund, which could not exceed an amount equal to one year of revenue from the millage dedicated to the inspector general. That amount is roughly $1.1 million a year. Once the fund reaches that amount, any surplus would be transferred to the general fund, which the council controls.

- Changing the Planning Advisory Board into a Planning Board, but still leaving the final decisions to the Parish Council.

May 6, 2013

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Jefferson Parish

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