In The News › Term limits finally coming before St. Tammany voters

Term limits finally coming before St. Tammany voters

By Robert Rhoden

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

February 23, 2016

For many years, some residents and organizations have called for term limits on the 14-member St. Tammany Parish Council. On March 5, voters will finally have their say.

The ballot includes a proposed change to the parish’s home rule charter to restrict council members to three consecutive four-year terms. It would take effect in January 2020.

But the group that has pushed the hardest and most passionately for term limits is asking voters to ignore the ballot item altogether. Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany had lobbied for a two-term limit, which most local governments in the New Orleans area have. And it wanted term limits to take effect right away, not after the end of the four-year term that started in January.

“What the council has done is to structure the voter choices to serve their own self-interest,” Concerned Citizens President Rick Franzo said.

Voters will either shoot down term limits or approve a proposition that could let the incumbents stay on the council 16 more years if they are re-elected, he said. “Their scheme is a … trick to perpetuate their incumbency until at least 2032 regardless of the vote,” he said.

Franzo’s advice for voters: Do nothing. “Leave the ballot blank, thus registering what is a … protest vote,” Franzo said.

Council Chairman Marty Dean said Franzo is entitled to his opinion. But Dean added: “I hope he doesn’t think he has the authority to tell people not to vote.

“That’s one individual’s point of view,” Dean said. “I guess if you see everything in a sinister way, it’s one way of looking at what’s on the ballot.”

Term limits were discussed at great length during the Home Rule Charter Committee meetings in the fall of 2014 and first quarter of 2015. The committee, which proposed various changes to the charter, eventually asked the council to give voters three options:

  • Retain current law, which has no term limits
  • Have a three-term limit
  • Have a three-term limit under a restructured council consisting of 12 district representatives and two parishwide at-large members.

Last year, the council initially voted against putting term limits on the ballot. After an outcry from some groups and residents, the panel flip-flopped in September and approved placed the three-term limit on the ballot. All changes to the home rule charter require voter approval.

The charter already limits the parish president to three consecutive terms. But it contains no limits on council members.

If the March 5 measure is approved, it will not take effect sooner than 2020 because the council started its new term in January. The rules may not be changed after-the-fact, parish officials say.

While the Concerned Citizens group opposes the measure, the independent non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research supports it. It called the ballot proposal “a step in the right direction” even though it is not in line with the two-term limits imposed on most other New Orleans area councils.

Proponents say term limits bring in new council members with fresh ideas and eliminate the political and fund-raising advantages of longtime incumbents who amass power through patronage, favors and campaign contributions.

Opponents say there is no need for term limits because voters have an opportunity to oust a council member every four years during elections. Moreover, they say, the St. Tammany council has experienced a great deal of turnover in recent years without term limits.

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