Five proposed changes to the Livingston Parish Home Rule Charter will go before voters in December, despite Parish President Layton Ricks’ refusal to sign the ordinance calling for the election.
Ricks returned the ordinance to the Parish Council office unsigned Thursday — a move that doesn’t prevent it from going into effect but does signal his disagreement with the council’s handling of the Charter Review Commission’s recommendations.
Under the charter, the parish president has 10 days from receipt of an ordinance to either sign or veto it. If an ordinance is unsigned, it is considered adopted.
“I don’t support the way the council handled it in dismissing any and all recommendations regarding the council,” Ricks said. “They chose only four or five that dealt with administration.”
Rather than making an issue of it by vetoing the ordinance, Ricks said, he decided instead to return it unsigned.
“Certainly, I think people should have a vote,” he said. “And I thought the commissioners worked hard, and I didn’t want to dismiss their work by vetoing it.”
Council Chairman Ricky Goff said Ricks’ position doesn’t make much sense to him.
“You’re either for the five that’s on the ballot or you’re not,” Goff said late Thursday. “I just don’t understand it.”
Goff said the proposed changes affect both branches of government by clarifying their respective roles, citing a proposed change to the parish’s budgeting process as an example.
The charter currently provides that, if the council fails to adopt a budget by the end of the year, the president’s proposed budget is considered adopted. A proposed amendment would instead realign parish procedures with state law, requiring the parish to operate on 50 percent of the prior year’s budget until a compromise budget can be agreed upon.
“Everything else about adopting the budget would be the same, but I think that change would force the two sides to sit down together and work it out,” Goff said.
Goff said another proposed change would allow the two branches, when working well together, to continue using the District Attorney’s Office for legal advice but would also give the council latitude to create its own legal department if the two branches were in conflict.
Three other proposed changes to the charter would clarify the council’s authority to approve unbudgeted contracts, give the council clerk more time to send proposed ordinances to the president for signature or veto and increase the minimum qualifications for parish finance director.
The charter review process was a source of contention between the Parish Council and Ricks from the start, when then-council Chairman Marshall Harris threatened to create a commission composed entirely of council appointees or to let the council itself determine which amendments to propose.
Harris eventually relented and afforded Ricks one appointment to the 10-member board, and the group began its work nicely enough until the issue of unbudgeted contracts first entered discussions.
Plagued by recurring disagreements, the commission nearly disintegrated when four commissioners resigned over the issue and another left for personal reasons.
The council replaced four of the resigned members, but Ricks refused to reappoint anyone to represent him on the board.
“It’s become quite clear that some on the commission have an agenda, and I just don’t want to subject anyone else to what’s going on there,” Ricks said at the time.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.