Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany didn’t get a seat on the committee that’s reviewing the parish’s home rule charter, but that isn’t stopping the group from weighing in on the process with a detailed list of proposed changes that it offered to the panel Monday night.
The committee, which is aiming to put any possible charter revisions on the gubernatorial election ballot this fall, listened to a brief presentation from CCST board member Carl Ernst concerning 11 proposals that range from term limits and a reconfiguration of the Parish Council to minutiae such as where staff members should sit at council meetings.
Some of those issues seemed to find backing on the committee, but others drew more questions than support.
“We are going to have term limits (on the ballot) if I have anything to say about it,” committee member Evans Spiceland said. But he was more wary about a proposal to shrink the Parish Council from 14 district members to nine district and two at-large seats, saying he wants to guard against the tendency at all levels for government to grow. He predicted that at-large members would demand a full-time salary and a staff.
Committee members also questioned whether some of the changes the group is seeking really belong in the home rule charter.
CCST has made charter revision a key goal, and the group’s omission from the committee clearly rankled Rick Franzo, president of the activist group.
“CCST was very disappointed that our organization that champions good governance with a membership of over 2,500 was excluded from participation on this committee,” he wrote in a letter to committee Chairwoman Michele Blanchard.
Some of the proposals that the group is pushing are familiar. For example, CCST wants creation of an Ethics Review Board, made up of people who have not held public office in St. Tammany Parish, and of an Inspector General’s Office.
The group had two members on the task force that was created last year to explore the feasibility of creating an IG’s Office, but that panel ultimately decided instead to pursue more rigorous audits by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, a process that is still being worked out.
Spiceland, who also served on the IG task force, pointed out that the office would not have covered all the major taxing bodies in the parish. “Only time will tell if the legislative auditor solution will work for us,” he said.
CCST also wants to set additional qualifications for parish office holders — a bachelor’s degree in business or public administration plus executive-level experience for the parish president and at least an associate’s degree for Parish Council members.
Spiceland told the group that he doesn’t think such requirements are appropriate for elected office. “I don’t want anything that limits who I can vote for,” he said.
Another proposal seeks to make it easier for the public to put issues on the ballot via referendum. Instead of requiring the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters, the groups wants to make it 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election. Ernst said CCST wants to make the referendum process more attainable.
Committee member Andrew Gibson pointed out that the number of votes cast in an election varies from ballot item to ballot item and so does not provide what he described as a fixed point. Ernst said Gibson made a good point and CCST would come back with another suggestion.
CCST has done battle with the parish over several zoning issues, and the group is proposing several measures that would give the Parish Council more control over rezoning. For example, the head of the Zoning Commission would be required to appear before the Parish Council on all proposals that would allow commercial, light-industrial or other non-residential activities in residential neighborhoods. Such measures would need a vote of three-fourths of the Parish Council, and if the council member representing the district in which the action falls votes no, the matter would be automatically tabled and a unanimous vote would be required at the next meeting for passage.
The group is also pushing for changes that would give the Parish Council more authority over appointments of department heads, require the parish president to submit minimum qualifications for each department-head position to the council for approval and give the final approval of appointments to the council.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.