Now it’s up to the voters to decide how French Settlement should select its police chief.
Since it was founded 50 years ago, the village has elected one of its own to helm the small department for four-year terms. Since 1984, they’ve elected Harry Brignac, who believes that if the position becomes a mayoral appointment, he will be removed from office.
Mayor Toni Guitrau has said the proposed change is not a reflection on the current chief and recently said that if the position becomes an appointment, it will mostly affect future generations.
On the Nov. 21 ballot, residents will be asked if the mayor should choose the chief, who must be approved by the board of aldermen.
Guitrau has said that the current system disqualifies candidates who live outside French Settlement, population 1,112, who may otherwise be a good fit for the job.
Brignac said the village has several locals qualified to serve and characterized the proposal as a power grab. The chief, he argued, must be accountable to the population, rather than the mayor, who may decide to increase revenue with ticket quotas or otherwise meddle with the department.
“The mayor shouldn’t have that much power,” he said.
Guitrau has said she and the Board of Aldermen began talking about calling for an election because residents approached village leadership asking for change.
“We’re just trying to satisfy the people,” she said.
When asked, the mayor declined to indicate which way she intends to vote.
When the aldermen called for the election in September, some residents were concerned the board was unilaterally making the switch. However, since they’ve found out it is only going up to a vote, residents have been quiet on the issue, Guitrau said.
“We haven’t heard a word,” she said.
Brignac said he’s heard plenty of residents’ opinions on a mayoral appointment.
“Everybody’s totally against it,” he said.
According to Fabian Blache, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, the state has about 100 appointed and 200 elected chiefs. Larger municipalities tend to appoint their top brass, while smaller communities generally elect theirs, he said.
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