In The News › Jefferson Parish charter board endorses inspector general’s reserve fund, rejects contracting change

Jefferson Parish charter board endorses inspector general’s reserve fund, rejects contracting change

By Manuel Torres, / The Times-Picayune
April 22, 2013

A Jefferson Parish charter board Monday endorsed Inspector General David McClintock’s request to let him build a reserve fund to pay for experts or large probes. McClintock will still need to persuade the Parish Council to put the charter change on the ballot, with voters having the final say.

The inspector general had little trouble persuading a majority of the Charter Advisory Board, which endorsed the proposal with a 7-5 vote.

“The funds were intended for the use of the inspector general,” said McClintock, referring to voter approval in 2011 of a dedicated millage for his office.

When voters created the inspector general post, they also approved a charter provision requiring that the office send to the parish’s general fund any leftover money at the end of the year. McClintock said that would prevent him from saving to pay for expensive audits or to hire expert consultants.

The provision endorsed by the charter board would allow him to keep surplus money in a reserve fund, which could not exceed an amount equal to one year of revenues from the millage dedicated to the inspector general. That amount is roughly $1.1 million a year. Once the inspector general’s reserves reach that level, any additional surplus would be transferred to the general fund, which the Parish Council controls.

McClintock said he expects to have at least $600,000 left over at the end of this year, because he’s still working to set up the office and has yet to hire personnel. But even if his proposal reaches the ballot, an election is unlikely until next year, meaning McClintock’s surplus this year would not benefit from a charter change. Board members suggested he would have to lobby the council to appropriate the 2013 surplus to his office.

Among the potential uses for a reserve fund, McClintock cited hiring experts to review specialized projects, like the embattled construction of the Jefferson Parish Performing Arts Center in Metairie. The project is years behind schedule and its cost is almost twice the original $26 million.

In other matters Monday, the board rejected a proposal by the Bureau of Governmental Research to transfer the power to hire public contractors from the Parish Council to the parish president. BGR has been pushing to strip the council of its power to pick professional contractors and have the parish president made the selections, based on technical rankings.

Trying to salvage some elements of the proposal, some charter board members amended it to keep the contracting power within the council, but mandating that the council award contracts only to the No. 1 firm in technical rankings. The proposal would have also required that the committees be comprised of professionals and that they rank firms based on a published criteria.

Charter board members rejected the amended proposal on a 6-5 vote.

Some board members were clearly opposed to restricting the council’s discretion in contracting. Member Chereen Gegenheimer said shifting the power to the parish president would transfer the decision from seven council members to only one elected official.

Board Chairman Louis Gruntz, a former assistant parish attorney, said the changes suggested could be addressed by ordinance, not through a charter change. “I don’t see a need for tinkering with the charter,” Gruntz said.

Some members, however, noted that the council has spent months working on an ordinance to make contracting changes, but has yet to adopt it.

Board member Gary Duker said the council’s process to select contractors is already transparent, because they vote in public. But board member John Litchfield said that “the circumstances of how they award the contract or why” are not always known to the public.

In other issues, the board on Monday:

- Recommended changing the Planning Advisory Board into a Planning Board, but still leaving the final decisions to the Parish Council. “What out Planning Board does is advise,” said Gruntz, who made the motion to change the name but keep the planning body’s limited powers. The vote was 7-4 in favor of Gruntz’ motion. The Young administration had sought to turn the advisory board into a commission with expanded powers.

- Rejected Young’s proposal to change the Charter Advisory Board into a Charter Commission, which would have limited the council’s powers. Parish administrator Chris Cox said Young’s intent was to have the charter board recommendations go straight to voters, without needing the Parish Council’s endorsement. Gegenheimer and Gruntz opposed that proposal. “As wise as the 15 of us may be, we’re not elected by the voters,” Gegenheimer said. The vote was 6-5 to reject Young’s proposal.

- Agreed to hold one more meeting, on May 6, for a final review to its recommendations before holding two public hearings. The hearings will be on May 21 and 23. Gruntz said he hopes the group will forward its recommendations to the council in June.

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