In Mandeville, Nov. 4 could be the day the musical chairs die. On that day, voters in the city will go to the polls to vote on a package of Home Rule Charter changes, one of which would eliminate the practice by which a council member can sidestep the two-term limit by moving from a district seat to an at-large one, or vice versa.
The amendment to eliminate the so-called “musical chairs” also would extend the council term limits from two to three consecutive terms.
That amendment and three others will be on the ballot after the City Council approved them Thursday night. Four other proposed amendments were rejected.
The council’s action ended its direct involvement in the preparation of the amendments, a process that has involved months of consultation with attorneys, public meetings and drawn-out debates over the wording and wisdom of each proposed amendment.
The term-limits proposal was passed over the objections of Councilwoman Carla Buchholz and Mayor Donald Villere, both of whom said that Mandeville’s voters have been taking it upon themselves to block politicians they view as playing musical chairs. The most recent example was former Councilman Jerry Coogan, who was defeated in 2012 while attempting to move from a district seat to an at-large seat.
Under the terms of the proposed amendment, no one could serve on the council, in any combination of seats, for more than three consecutive terms. If, however, someone serves three terms and then sits out one term, the count would start over, and he or she could serve three more terms.
Along with the anti-musical chairs amendment, three others got the necessary four of five votes Thursday night to be put on the Nov. 4 ballot: Two would make mostly technical changes to the city’s charter to bring it more in line with state law, and one would make the city’s human resources director a position with full civil service protection.
Among the amendments that failed were two controversial ones: to set a lifetime term limit for council members of three terms and to permit the council to hire its own attorney when needed. Both — again — provoked spirited debate between members of the council and the mayor.
If passed, the measure to set a lifetime term limit would have superseded the measure that did pass and would have set three terms as the maximum that any one person could serve on the council. As at past meetings, a long debate ensued, with Mayor Pro Tem Clay Madden arguing strongly for the measure, with some support from the handful of audience members in attendance.
Councilman Rick Danielson said, however, that the lifetime limit was unnecessary.
“Are we complicating something that doesn’t need to be overcomplicated?” he asked, adding that the system in place is sufficient. Danielson was joined by Buchholz in voting against it, which prevented its going on the ballot.
The other controversial idea, to let the City Council hire its own attorney, also gained a 3-2 vote in favor, with Danielson and Buchholz again opposed. The measure was championed by Councilman Ernest Burguières and Madden, who pointed to Hammond and New Orleans, which have similar provisions in their charters.
But Villere accused the council of wanting to “opinion-shop” to find an attorney who will tell it what it wants to hear, and when Madden objected, Villere pointed out that Victor Franckiewicz, an attorney brought in to advise the council on charter changes, had recommended the measure not go forward in its current form.
Instead, Franckiewicz said, if such a measure was going to be passed, it should include limits as to the issues and the time for which the counsel would be engaged.
The council also rejected a proposed amendment that would have placed authority over personnel rules, policies and procedures with the city’s civil service board.
With the charter amendments in the rearview mirror, the council now can turn to another contentious issue, the city’s budget, which must be passed by Sept. 1.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.