St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister has been saying for some time that the parish’s Home Rule Charter is overdue for review, and now she’s asking the Parish Council to create a committee that will take a hard look at the 15-year-old document.
While details are still being worked out, Brister said she envisions a committee with nine members — the same number who served on the original charter commission. It will include appointees from various groups such as the League of Women Voters and the parish’s two chambers of commerce. The administration and the Parish Council will each have an appointee, she said.
“When the Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1998, it was fine-tuned to the specific needs of St. Tammany at that time, but our needs have changed as the parish has grown,” she said in a prepared statement.
The charter was the second attempt to move St. Tammany from the police jury form of government to one where the legislative and administrative functions are separate. The first stab at the reform failed in the early 1980s. Brister said the timing of the second effort was better because it coincided with the parish’s major growth spurt.
Brister, the second parish president to serve under the charter, said she is calling for the review as a proactive step to hold the parish government to a high standard.
She said she anticipates the Parish Council voting next month on a resolution creating the committee, but the time frame for the committee’s work hasn’t been set. Election schedules will be a determining factor, Brister said, because any potential charter changes would need to be put on the ballot by the Parish Council, and she would want to time them for a high-turnout election.
When voters went to the polls on Oct. 3, 1998, to decide on a new form of government, only 21 percent turned out and the charter passed by only 121 votes.
Public input will be critical to the review process, Brister said, and the administration included a link to the home rule charter in its news release: www.stpgov.org/home-rule-charter.
Brister said she wants to see a provision in the charter for an automatic 10-year review. The current charter doesn’t have such a provision.
One group that has pushed hard for changes to the charter is Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, an activist group that has sometimes riled elected officials with its reformist zeal.
CCST has made no secret that it wants term limits for all elected officials, not just the parish president. Its also favors a reduction in the size of the Parish Council and its reconfiguration to include at-large as well as district representatives. The group’s leader, Rick Franzo, has criticized the existing charter as too similar to the police jury system it replaced.
He said he talked to Brister about the need to review the charter even before she took office and that she agreed then that such a step was needed.
What’s not clear is whether CCST will be a part of the formal process. “I would hope she would want us at the table,” Franzo said. “It would be a mistake if she didn’t.”
But the group, which had two appointees on a commission that reviewed the feasibility of creating a St. Tammany inspector general, might not get a spot on this committee. Brister said the parish has a lot of groups that it would be logical to ask to serve as appointing authorities. Although she, personally, would not ask a CCST representative to serve, she said, someone else with an appointment might choose to do so.
There will be opportunities for public input as well, she said.
But even if CCST doesn’t have an appointee, Franzo said, it will pursue the changes it wants to see through a petition drive to get initiatives on the ballot. Right now, the group’s focus is on an anti-fracking campaign, he said, and it might end up trying to make all the changes it wants to see at one time.
Even so, Franzo gave Brister credit for taking the initiative to launch a review.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter at @spagonesadvocat.