GONZALES — Ascension Parish voters will be asked later this month whether to strengthen the hand of the Parish Council in refereeing the few employee disciplinary decisions that are appealed to the legislative body.
The proposed change to parish government's home rule charter could affect how discipline is meted out for more than 400 parish employees under current Parish President Kenny Matassa and future elected parish executives.
Pressure from Parish Council members for the proposed change emerged well before the advocacy group A Better Ascension put forward a proposal earlier this year for a major revamp of the charter that, among other changes, would eliminate an elected parish president in favor of an appointed parish manager.
None of those proposed changes, which are still being vetted by a Parish Council committee, are on the ballot Nov. 18. Early voting began Friday.
If adopted, the measure on the ballot would require that the Parish Council muster a two-thirds vote of the members present for employee appeals to overturn administration disciplinary decisions, ballot language says. Those decisions include terminations, demotions, other discipline and the failure to be promoted.
The charter now requires a two-thirds vote of the entire 11-member council, or eight votes, whether or not all those members show up for the appeal hearing, which is the final say in parish government outside of court.
Critics of that aspect of the current charter, like Councilman Daniel "Doc" Satterlee, say the standard is unfair to employees because absent council members who aren't even present to hear both sides become automatic "no" votes against the employee's appeal.
This tilts the playing field too much to the parish president and administration, he added. Satterlee said he could recall two recent instances where an employee's appeal of a termination had support from a majority of the council but absent members led to the administration decision being upheld.
Instead, the proposed change would require two-thirds of those council members present for the employee appeal hearing to overturn an administration decision.
"It's the only fair way to go," said Satterlee, who pushed for the change out of his Strategic Planning Committee and had garnered strong support from the rest of the council.
Matassa has not aired major objections to the change.
Councilman Travis Turner, who leads a council committee reviewing the proposed charter changes not on the ballot, said the full council will vote in two weeks on whether to put the A Better Ascension proposal on the ballot next year.