AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council on Monday set an April 13 public hearing for a proposal to allow parish voters to decide whether to limit the terms of the parish council and parish president.
The proposal would limit the offices to three consecutive four-year terms. If the council allows the proposition to go to the voters, it would appear on the Oct. 24 ballot.
The council rejected a similar proposition last year. A yearlong study by a Charter Review Commission appointed by the council recommended term limits. However, when the matter came before the council for final approval to submit to the voters, the measure failed on a 5-5 vote.
On Monday, the council voted 7-3 to at least introduce the term limits proposition. Voting yes were Harry Lavine, Ronnie Bankston, Nicky Muscarello, David Vial, Carlo Bruno, Trent Forrest and Greg Varnado. Voting against were Bobby Cortez, Lionel Wells and Louis Joseph.
Changing their vote from last year’s proposal from no to yes were Bankston and Forrest.
The measure was introduced by Muscarello, who said his only intention is to allow the voters to make the decision. He also contended that some elected officials get “entrenched” in their positions while would-be public servants who are qualified get shut out of the election process.
Wells said he opposes term limits because such laws create automatic “lame duck” terms of office when the official no longer feels obligated to the voters. Wells said his research of term limits shows they had no impact on better government nor did they “open doors” for more women and minorities to gain access to public office.
He also said it is was not fair for the parish president to be term-limited when officials serving in offices created by the state constitution, such as the sheriff, assessor, clerk of court and district attorney, are not limited to the number of terms they can serve.
Cortez proposed an amendment that would give the electorate the chance to vote separately on whether there should be term limits for the parish council or for the parish president. That measure failed 3-7 with only Cortez, Forrest and Varnado voting in favor.
After the meeting, outgoing Parish President Gordon Burgess said he is against term limits because it prohibits “good and proven officials” from continuing to serve the public. “I work with our state senators and representatives on an almost daily basis and most of them are hard-working, honest, great representatives of the people … and just when they have really learned how to be the most effective, they have to leave office because of term limits. The voters should be the ones to decide who stays in office and for how long,” he said.
Burgess has been the only person to serve as parish president since voters approved a change from the old police jury system to the home rule charter creating the council-president form of government in 1986, having been elected to consecutive four-year terms.