HRC Revision Committee discusses changing structure of parish council

Halen Doughty

In an abbreviated meeting of the Home Rule Charter Revision Committee, members took up Article IV of the HRC, which outlines the governing authority of the parish - in this case the parish council.

Jeff Pettit of the Ascension Citizens Group made comments on Section 01 of Article IV, which describes the composition of the 11-member parish council. Pettit said his group has discussed a number of potential changes, including increasing the number of districts, decreasing the number of council members, and even adding at-large members who would represent the entire parish. Though he noted that creating more parish-wide positions in government could mean adding more politics to the process. Winning an election throughout the parish would take more funding and eliminate those who are not able to foot the bill.

Pettit said his group also discussed the possibility of full-time council members because he said the job demands full-time attention. The part-time position currently pays around $19,000, so upping the hours would also mean an increase in compensation.

Committee member Van Lambert raised concerns that adding at-large members could come with a cost. He said council members representing the entire parish would likely receive a higher salary than those representing one district. He said by adding two or more at-large members, the parish could see a hike in the budget.

Committee member and parish councilman Aaron Lawler agreed with the notion of adding at large representatives. But he likes the idea of keeping the number of council members at 11. He said if fewer members serve on the council, it could complicate committee representation and force members to serve on every committee, which would place a higher burden on the representatives. He said he could support a proposal to add two to four at large members while realigning the districts to keep the total number of council members the same.

Committee member Wade Petite noted there are a lot of moving parts to altering the structure of the council - increasing or decreasing the number of members, full-time versus part-time representatives, at large members or districts, and so on. He recommended bringing in an expert to testify on the pros and cons of each potential change to the council. Members agreed to table the item for more discussion.

Committee member and former-parish president Tommy Martinez brought up residency requirements as the committee delved into Section 2, which deals with the election of the parish council members. He noted that there is no requirement to live within the parish prior to the election, meaning a candidate could move into Ascension Parish immediately before an election and be eligible. He made a motion to add a six-month residency requirement for anyone who seeks to run for a position on the parish council. The motion passed without opposition and will be added to the list of recommendations that will be presented to the parish council once the committee has finished reviewing the HRC.

As the committee took on Section 3, Pettit raised concerns about parish council members finding jobs in parish government after leaving office, as the HRC does not place prohibitions on members from taking such jobs after their terms. He said it seems this could leave room for conflicts of interest.

Martinez noted that under state law, council members are prohibited from working in parish government for one year following the end of their terms. Petite made a motion to add another year to that in the HRC, meaning that parish council members could not accept paying jobs within parish government for two years after the end of their term. The motion passed without objection.

The committee began its discussion of Section 4 before the meeting was cut short. This section deals with compensation for members of the parish council, and many were concerned that council members must vote for their own raises.

A possible solution to this would be to use automatic annual pay increases that are tied to the adjusted cost of living. But some were concerned that automatic raises would not be tied to job performance. Questions were raised about the state law that limits the pay of members of the parish governing authority, as the Ascension Parish Council has already reached its maximum pay scale under state law. Running low on time, the committee ultimately decided to suspend its discussion of Section 4 until the next meeting.

The next meeting of the HRC Revision Committee will be held on Monday, April 16 at 5 p.m. in the Ascension Parish Courthouse.

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