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Apr 25, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Term limits among panel’s ideas

Term limits among panel’s ideas
Council to review charter suggestions
Friday, April 25, 2008
By Charlie Chapple
St. Tammany bureau

A citizens committee formed to propose changes to St. Tammany Parish’s Home Rule Charter will recommend term limits for Parish Council members and a reduction in the size of the parish governing body from 14 to nine members.

The committee is putting the final touches on a package of proposed charter changes that will be presented to the council on Thursday for further consideration and review.

The recommendations will call for a major overhaul of the Parish Council, reducing its size from 14 to nine members. Seven of the nine members would be elected from districts, and two members would be elected parishwide.

Committee member Sandra Slifer noted that surrounding parishes have smaller governing bodies and that St. Tammany’s is tied with Iberia and Vermilion parishes for the second-highest number of members in the state. Only Calcasieu Parish, with 15 members, has more, she said.

The committee also felt that having two at-large council members would promote “more parishwide decision making,” Slifer said. Currently, all members are elected from districts.

Term limits on table

The charter, which took effect in 2000, imposes a limit of three consecutive terms on the parish president, but it has no limits for council members. The committee is suggesting a limit of two consecutive terms for council members. If a council member has served more than one and a half terms — or more than six consecutive years — the member would be prohibited from seeking re-election.

It will be up to the council to decide which proposals, if any, make it to the ballot for voter consideration. The tentative plan calls for the council to put proposed changes on the Nov. 4 presidential election ballot. A 10-vote supermajority of the council is required for a charter amendment to get on the ballot.

With the informal blessings of the Parish Council, the committee was organized in December by the League of Women Voters of St. Tammany and other citizens groups.

Slifer, who is also league president, said the committee, with help from the nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research, reviewed the charter — similar to a constitution for parish government — section by section. The recommended changes reflect a consensus of the committee, she said.

“I look forward to seeing what they have to present,” said Steve Stefancik, who was council chairman when the committee formed. “We’ll look at each recommendation and determine if we want to move forward” with putting them on the ballot.

Stefancik said the council made no promises other than to review the committee’s recommendations.

Current Council Chairman Jerry Binder could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Stefancik said it is likely that Binder will appoint a committee to review the suggestions.

Rules would fill vacancies

Another proposed change would prohibit a person temporarily appointed by the council to fill a vacant seat on the governing body from seeking election to that seat. The charter allows an appointee to run for the seat.

If a vacancy occurs in the parish president’s post, the charter calls for the council to appoint a person to fill the position until a new president is elected. The appointee can run for parish president.

The citizens committee is recommending that the parish chief administrative officer or the assistant CAO serve as interim president until a new president is elected and sworn into office. The interim president would not be able to run for the office.

The proposed charter change would ensure an interim president would focus on the needs of the parish instead of running for election, the committee reasoned.

The charter requires that all parish government agencies use the district attorney’s office for legal advice and counsel. A proposed amendment would give the Parish Council the option of creating an independent legal department. Many home rule charters include this option, Slifer said.

Commission targeted

The committee also plans to recommend an amendment that would change several planning, zoning and land-use matters in the parish. The major changes would:

— Mandate the parish’s comprehensive long-range plan be adopted by ordinance to have the force of law and be periodically reviewed and updated by the parish Planning and Zoning Commission.

— Make the planning and zoning commissions a single entity, instead of separate panels composed of identical members.

— Reduce the size of the Planning and Zoning Commission from 11 to nine members, with all members appointed by the parish president with council confirmation. The council now appoints nine members, and the parish president names two members.

— Create a nominating committee composed of the head of an urban planning department at a Louisiana university, the head of the largest planning organization in Louisiana, a representative from the business community and a representative from a homeowners organization to recommend three people for each commission seat. The parish president would choose one of the three nominees for each seat.

— Require the Planning and Zoning Commission to hire a director who would handle and oversee most of the duties now done by the parish Department of Development.

. . . . . . .

Charlie Chapple can be reached at cchapple@timespicayune.com or (985) 898-4828.

Apr 25, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

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