Parish Council establishes home rule charter review committees

Halen Doughty
A scene from the packed-house parish council meeting February 15. Parish President Kenny Matassa makes a proclamation.

The Ascension Parish Council voted Thursday to establish a committee to review the home rule charter. The group A Better Ascension has been pushing for a parish manger system as opposed to the parish president system currently in place, but the idea has sparked heated debates across the parish.

A 12-person committee will have through May to vet the idea and offer proposed amendments to the home rule charter. The changes, if approved, would be put on the ballot for a public vote.

ABA has suggested those amendments would include setting requirements for a parish manger that the parish council would select, rather than electing a parish president with fewer qualifications. The group says putting a professional at the helm of local government would save tax dollars and help the parish reach long term goals that are not tied to an election cycle.

Citizens voiced their opinions on the plan at the meeting, but the council stressed that the vote to establish this committee is not a vote for or against ABA's plan. This resolution simply establishes the committee that will review the plan and make a recommendation. For the most part, the council agreed that getting more information is the next step.

Councilman Aaron Lawler said he finds it ironic that some would shut the issue down without giving voters a chance to voice their opinions on the matter, while saying they want to protect the right to vote.

"To me the issue right now is not whether we're for or against the ABA, it's whether we want to get more information on it, learn more about it, and allow the public the opportunity," said Lawler.

Councilman Oliver Joseph echoed that sentiment, saying this is not a vote for the issue but for the people to gather more information.

"We disagree and agree on certain things, but once again all we want to do is give the public an opportunity to look at the big picture of the whole parish with some new ideas," said Joseph. "Those new ideas may come here and they may fail in committee and the public won't get a chance to vote on it, or we may walk away and still have the home rule charter that some people think is the greatest thing since sliced bread."

The vote to set up the committee was 8 to 1 with Councilman Daniel "Doc" Satterlee as the only "No" vote. Travis Turner and Benny Johnson were absent from the meeting. Satterlee said he cannot willingly sacrifice the most precious right to vote. He said if this change passes, voters will no longer be able to pick their champion, as business leaders would select the parish manger.

Several members of the council have stated they will not serve on the committee but instead appoint a voter from their respective districts to represent them on the committee. Councilman Randy Clouatre is one of those who will appoint someone to the committee.