In The News › Our recommendations on St. Tammany charter changes: Editorial

Our recommendations on St. Tammany charter changes: Editorial

By The Editorial Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

November 6, 2015

The NOLA.com | Times-Picayune editorial board make the following recommendations for the Nov. 21 ballot.

ST. TAMMANY PARISH

HOME RULE CHARTER

PROPOSITION 2

To provide for the automatic review of the St. Tammany Parish Home Rule Charter once every 15 years through the appointment of a Charter Committee by the St. Tammany Parish Council.

AGAINST

Even the best-written document can get stale, so it’s a good idea to have a regular review of the parish Home Rule Charter. St. Tammany’s does not include that provision now and the amendments proposed Nov. 21 are the first in 17 years. But this proposal would insert politics into the process, and that isn’t wise. State law provides for the creation of a charter commission that can recommend amendments directly to the voters, without the Parish Council being able to change them, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Governmental Research. That would have been a better approach. Instead, this amendment not only allows council meddling, it also requires that the charter review committee include at least two Parish Council members. “The presence of council members on the committee could inhibit the range of proposals and inject political considerations into the dialogue over them. Council members could provide recommendations without being members of the committee. We also note that under the proposed amendment, the council would determine the manner in which appointments are made, giving it further control over the process,” BGR said. In addition, the National Civic League says that the charter process works best without elected officials as members. There is already an example of how politics can mangle the charter process. In addition to the nine proposed amendments on the ballot, the charter committee appointed to do the current review also recommended a term limits proposal to apply to the Parish Council. Council members initially rejected the term limits proposal outright, but bowed to public pressure and agreed to put it on the ballot in 2016. Even then, the council included only a portion of what the charter committee wanted to have on the ballot regarding term limits.

PROPOSITION 5

To provide for the legal representation of the St. Tammany parish government and the creation of the Legal Department.

FOR

The charter currently requires parish government to be represented by the district attorney’s office except under specific circumstances. That presents potential conflicts of interest. The district attorney represents not only St. Tammany Parish but Washington Parish, and his interests may clash with those of the parish president and council. In addition, BGR notes, requiring the executive and legislative branches of government to use essentially the same lawyer can be a problem. They each may need independent advice about each other. This amendment would allow the parish president to create an executive counsel office to advise and represent parish government. There is some concern that the language isn’t clear on allowing the Parish Council to hire its own counsel as well, but state law includes language governing that. If needed, a future charter amendment could more clearly define the council’s right to hire a lawyer.

PROPOSITION 8

To provide for personnel policies and procedures, parish departments and administrative reorganization

AGAINST

There are some significant flaws with this amendment. It would remove language in the charter requiring parish government to hire the best-qualified job candidates and to base appointments and promotions on merit, according to BGR’s analysis. Those standards are currently included in ordinances defining parish personnel rules but could be changed in the future by a vote of the Parish Council. Having the provision in the charter is stronger. Without it, hiring could be tainted by patronage and favoritism. This amendment also removes language requiring long-range planning to guide development in St. Tammany, BGR said. In a fast-growing parish, that isn’t wise.

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