In The News › Jefferson Parish president should not have outside income, some Charter board members say

Jefferson Parish president should not have outside income, some Charter board members say

By Manuel Torres
The Times-Picayune
February 18, 2013

Jefferson Parish’s president should be banned from receiving income from outside employment or non-passive investments, several members of the Charter Advisory Board urged Monday. Clearly seeking to prevent the corruption that brought down the Aaron Broussard administration, the charter board asked its attorney to draft language that would impose the outside-income prohibition.

“The parish president should devote full-time attention, in terms of income, to the president’s job and derive no income from an activity that requires any active engagement of labor,” said board member John Litchfield, who advocated for a prohibition in the charter.

The parish president’s job currently pays $137,743 a year.

Board members voted unanimously to have a proposed charter change drafted, and said they will consider it at their next meeting. The recommendation, if approved by the board, would have to be approved by the Parish Council to make it to the ballot. Only voters have the final say on any charter changes.

Broussard pleaded guilty last year to federal charges, admitting that he took payments from a parish contractor, among other crimes. Prosecutors have said the payments were bribes to pay Broussard for using the influence of his public office to steer private business to the contractor, who has admitted to his role in the scheme.

The discussion Monday night came as the charter board considered a proposal from the civic watchdog Citizens for Good Government. At a public hearing last year, the group asked board members to recommend that the charter require the parish president to be a “full-time” position.

Litchfield and other charter board members said that simply adding a “full-time” requirement in the charter would be too vague and open to interpretation. Some noted that a parish president could work 40 hours for the parish, claim the obligation fulfilled and then have outside employment.

Instead, the advocated for a clearer restriction that would limit outside income while allowing a parish president to receive earnings from mutual funds, stocks or other so-called passive investments.

Broussard’s was not the only instance of a top executive with outside income in the charter board members’ minds Monday. Some members alluded to former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who faces federal charges that he abused his public office to benefit his family’s granite installation business, among other corruption allegations. Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, has said his client is innocent but has also said Nagin was seeking a plea deal when he was indicted last month.
Advocates for the outside-income ban in the parish charter said the Jefferson Parish president’s position should receive undivided attention. Litchfield said any outside employment at all is a problem, even legitimate work that may not necessarily pose an ethics challenge.

“I don’t care if it’s working for the Sisters of Charity doing missionary work, I don’t think (the parish president) should have any other income from active employment,” Litchfield said.

Parish President John Young, asked to comment on a limit to outside income, said in an email message: “I have worked full time as Parish President since being sworn in on October 13, 2010. I have not pursued any active, outside employment and have been completely focused on fulfilling my duties and obligations as Parish President.”

In other matters Monday night, the board:

– Narrowly rejected Parish President John Young’s proposal to change some references to the parish president from the “chief administrative officer” to the “chief executive officer.” Some board members called it a “nominal” change, but a slight majority voted against the change. – Refused to reconsider its proposal to members of the Personnel Board to a single, five-year term. The Personnel Board oversees civil service rules that protect thousands of parish employees. Personnel board member Ted Stacey, IV asked the charter group to reconsider, arguing that there’s a learning curve to serving on the board and limiting members to one term would hurt it. “The most anybody would have is four years of experience,” before they’re almost heading out, Stacey suggested. “That’s not a lot.” No single charter board member made a motion to reconsider the one-term limit proposal. – Postponed a vote on a proposal to incorporate in the charter contracting reforms proposed last year by the Bureau of Governmental Research. The non-profit think tank has been pushing to reduce the wide discretion Parish Council members have to grant professional work. Charter board members agreed to review BGR’s recommendations and consider the issue at a later meeting. – Debated asking the Parish Council for a two-month extension of the charter board’s term in order to finish their review and hold public hearings. The volunteer board’s mandate currently expires in April. Gruntz said that would not leave time for public hearings before forwarding charter proposals to the council. The board didn’t vote Monday on a resolution formally asking the council for the extension, but Gruntz said one is being drafted.

Charter reviewers also debated a section of the charter that implies the parish finance director is supposed to certify the legality of financial transactions for parish entities, including the parish’s two hospitals, JEDCO and the 911 district. But Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee said the finance director lacks the authority to review those entities’ financial records. She asked the charter board to institutionalize the status quo, which is that the parish finance director has no real oversight over those entities.

“They haven’t done it with the hospitals for over 50 years, and with JEDCO for more than 20 years,” Gruntz said of the parish not being able to look into the entities’ books. He also said the proposed change would not limit the ability of the parish inspector general and the legislative auditor to investigate the hospitals, JEDCO and the 911 district.

Some board members, however, made it clear they want to make sure the change would not forfeit what should be a parish obligation to monitor the hospitals, JEDCO and 911. The board postponed a vote on the matter.

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