In The News › Jefferson Parish residents should weigh in on appointments, council member says

Oct 12, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish residents should weigh in on appointments, council member says

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
By Paul Rioux
The Times-Picayune

Former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s abrupt resignation on a Friday in January was followed by the Parish Council’s surprise announcement the following Monday morning that it had decided on a replacement during the weekend without holding a meeting. Critics said Steve Theriot’s appointment as interim parish president reeked of backroom dealmaking and violated open-meeting laws at a time when the scandal-plagued parish government should have pursued greater transparency to restore the public’s trust.

The uproar forced the council to redo the fast-track appointment of Theriot, whose nine-month tenure ends today. He will be replaced by President-elect John Young, who as council chairman abstained from the vote to appoint Theriot, saying the public should have been involved in the selection process.

Hoping to avoid similar controversies in the future, Councilman Chris Roberts is proposing an ordinance that establishes a 12-day process to publicly vet nominees and seek residents’ input before appointing a new official.

When a parish president or council member leaves office early, the proposed ordinance calls for each council member to nominate a replacement, who must submit a résumé and be interviewed at a public meeting before a selection is made.

The parish charter says the council must fill vacancies within 30 days, but it does not spell out a process for doing so.

“It’s obvious the public wants an established process,” Roberts said. “I think we were all surprised to learn the charter did not establish a protocol.”

In drafting the ordinance, Roberts closely followed recommendations from the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit public policy group that culled ideas from similar ordinances in Shreveport and three other communities across the country.

The proposed appointment process, which is the same for an interim parish president or council member, would give council members three days to nominate replacements, who then have four days to submit résumés and letters of recommendation to be posted on the parish’s website.

Two days after the submission deadline, the council would hold a special meeting to interview the nominees in public. At a second meeting two days later, the council would listen to public comments before voting to fill the vacancy.

Margie Seemann, vice chairwoman of Citizens for Good Government and a vocal critic of the process to replace Broussard, called the proposal a “step in the right direction.”

“We feel this is a big improvement over the way things were done before,” she said. “The public has a right to be involved every step of the way.”

Seemann said the nomination process should be expanded to include nominees from an advisory committee of university experts or, possibly, applications from the general public.

“We are concerned that the council members are only going to nominate politically connected people,” she said.

The ordinance is set to be introduced today, but it can’t come up for a vote until the Nov. 3 meeting. That means it won’t be in effect when Young resigns his council seat to be sworn in as parish president.

However, Roberts said the council can still choose to use the process outlined in the proposed ordinance to fill Young’s at-large council seat. Whoever is appointed cannot run in the special election, likely in April, to fill the remainder of Young’s term.

Roberts, the 1st District council member, has said he plans to run for Young’s seat.

Young breezed to election Oct. 2 on a platform of restoring integrity and transparency to parish government in the wake of an ongoing federal criminal investigation that felled the Broussard administration.

Broussard resigned Jan. 8, four days after his top aide, Tim Whitmer, stepped down amid scrutiny of his private insurance agency, which did business with at least a half-dozen parish contractors.

Oct 12, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Jefferson Parish

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