A committee charged with reviewing St. Tammany Parish’s home rule charter elected its leaders, adopted a list of areas to study and set a twice-monthly meeting schedule at its inaugural meeting Tuesday.
Michele Blanchard, who was appointed to the committee by the East St. Tammany Parish Chamber of Commerce, was elected to the chairmanship over Evans Spiceland, who was appointed to the panel by the parish’s legislative delegation.
Ed Dillard, one of two members appointed by Parish President Pat Brister, nominated Spiceland, a retired Army colonel, saying that he had ably chaired a committee that explored the feasibility of creating an Inspector General’s Office for the parish. It recommended against the idea.
But the two Parish Council members on the panel pushed for Blanchard.
Councilman Richard Tanner, who nominated her, said he was impressed with the fact that she is a product of St. Tammany Parish schools. “No disrespect to the five attorneys we have on this board, but I’d like to see her as chair,’’ he said.
Councilman Steve Stefancik praised Blanchard’s work on a committee that the council formed recently to strengthen its communication with the public.
Tanner also nominated Rene Soule, the NAACP’s appointee to the committee, as vice chairman. No other nominations were offered for that post.
Brister thanked the committee members for helping to write what she described as a “crucial chapter in the story of St. Tammany.’’
It’s important to move forward, she said, adding that the charter is 15 years old and needs to be looked at again.
“The process might be lengthy, but I’m sure it will be thorough. Maybe at times it will be stressful,’’ she said.
Brister made clear, however, that the committee’s role is only advisory in nature. Its recommendations to the Parish Council will provide the foundation for what may ultimately turn into changes in the document, she said.
The group has an April 1 deadline to report to the parish administration and council.
Several groups have been pushing for changes to the charter that was narrowly adopted by voters in 1998.
The activist group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany has been vocal about wanting term limits for Parish Council members as well as the parish president. The group also wants to reconfigure the council to make it smaller and add at-large representatives.
Brister has characterized the review as something needed to ensure that the charter still meets the needs of a growing parish. She has called for a provision that would call for automatic reviews every few years — something that was not in the charter adopted by voters in 1998.
Brister asked the committee to include that idea in its scope of work, adding it to a list of items submitted by Stefancik as a starting point. The committee agreed.
The list of areas for study also includes the council’s size and makeup; term limits; filling council vacancies; the use of the District Attorney’s Office or independent legal counsel to advise the council; compensation of council members; and planning and zoning.
Committee member Danny Shaw asked for some background on those areas from the administration and Parish Council and why they’ve been suggested for study.
Blanchard said the committee also will ask the public for any proposed additions to the list.
Brister said residents will be able to make suggestions to the committee on the parish’s website, www.stpgov.org.
The committee voted to hold its next meetings at 6 p.m. Oct. 8 and Oct. 21.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.