HRC Revision Committee vets ABA proposal for parish manager

Halen Doughty

The Home Rule Charter Revision Committee has begun thoroughly vetting the proposal from A Better Ascension to alter the structure of parish government. The recommendation proposes to replace the elected position of parish president with that of a qualified parish manager who would be appointed by the parish council.

The document was taken up following two meetings filled with expert testimony on the council-manager form of government. Two experts testified at each meeting. They ranged from professors in county government to leaders in county manager organizations and attorneys specializing in local government.

Committee members raised concerns during a question and answer session that followed each testimony. Some of those concerns were addressed by the group, as changes were made to the original proposal from ABA.

J Hudson with 3 Strategies said three major areas of concern were addressed through their changes. The first of those is the concern some have with giving up the right to elect a parish president. Experts testified that some local governments have both a parish manager to oversee the day to day operations of the parish or county, as well as a president who acts as a ceremonial figurehead.

Under the revised proposal from ABA, Hudson said the elected parish president would chair the parish council and set the agenda for meetings. The president would only vote in the case of a tie and would not function as a member of the governing body. The structure of the 11-member parish council would not be changed under the new proposal.

Another key change in the recommendation deals with the nominating committee that would recommend a parish manager for the council to approve. During the expert testimony, the idea of a national search firm came up, in which an agency would search for a manager and recommend candidates who meet the qualifications.

Those candidates could then be vetted by the nominating committee before heading to the council. Hudson said after receiving feedback from the public, ABA altered the structure of that committee. The 7-member group would be made up of representatives from businesses as well as community stakeholders. The parish president would appoint one member, and other nominations would come from Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Parish Council, and either the superintendent of the school system or the chancellor of the community college. Another representative would be selected by one of the top businesses in the parish. ABA also added the requirement that everyone on the nominating committee must be a resident of Ascension Parish.

One area missing from the original proposal was how to handle the transition period of switching from a parish president to a parish manager system of government. Hudson said finding and vetting a manager candidate could take anywhere from four to six months. Committee members had questions about who would run parish government during the interim.

Hudson said ABA aligned their proposed charter to those used in other counties across the country. The transition period would include three stages. In the first stage, the Chief Administrative Officer of the parish would act as parish manager until the new members of the parish council have been elected. Once the new council members take office, they would appoint an interim parish manager. Under the original proposal the CAO would step in, but given there would be no parish president, there would also be no CAO who is appointed by the president. The revised proposal states the interim cannot serve for a period longer than 12 months. After that time, the official parish manager would step in to the position.

The HRC Revision Committee has begun vetting the proposal from ABA. Members will take the document one section as a time, just as they have been doing with the HRC currently in place. Two meetings have been set aside to take a thorough look at the document before sending it to the parish council for consideration. If approved by the council, the parish-manager system could appear on a December ballot, where voters would have the final say in what kind of government they want.

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