A proposal that would remove the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office as the legal representative of the St. Tammany Parish Council as well as of the parish administration has become a source of friction between the council and DA Warren Montgomery.
So much so, in fact, that Montgomery threw a roadblock in front of the proposal last week, pointing out that council members had erred in one of the procedural steps necessary to try to write the change into St. Tammany’s home rule charter.
Last month, Montgomery had asked council members to delay voting on the proposed amendment, saying he had not been given adequate time to review it.
At the same meeting, the council revived the idea of term limits for their own seats, with Councilmen Gene Bellisario and Marty Dean asking the council to reconsider its earlier rejection of the idea. The council scheduled a Sept. 3 vote on whether to put a three-term limit proposal before voters next year.
Then, last week, the council quietly called for a do-over. Montgomery had pointed out — after asking for an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office — that the council had failed to properly advertise the proposed charter changes, which will now have to be voted on again at a special meeting Sept. 23.
Montgomery notified the Parish Council of the problem by letter, and he had a meeting Thursday with Councilman Steve Stefancik and Council Chairman Richard Tanner. Tanner described the meeting as cordial and supportive.
“He did us a favor by calling it to our attention,’’ Tanner said.
He said the mistake occurred because the council had never before tried to amend the 15-year-old home rule charter. If the council had not corrected the error, the ballot measures could have been subject to legal challenge, he said.
Montgomery said some council members might have been upset that he sought an AG’s opinion but that he wanted to be sure his interpretation of the charter was correct.
Procedural questions aside, the heart of the disagreement remains.
Montgomery agrees that it makes sense for the parish administration to have its own legal counsel, who would be answerable to one boss, the parish president. But he thinks his office should continue serving the Parish Council, a disagreement that first surfaced in March.
Montgomery argues that St. Tammany doesn’t have the management structure in place for the 14-member council to have its own lawyer. Most parishes use the DA as the legal counsel for parish government, he adds.
Tanner takes issue with that point. The larger parishes — Orleans, Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Caddo — have their own legal counsel, he said, and St. Tammany belongs in that category.
But Tanner also sees the disagreement over the charter amendments as evidence that the council needs to have its own attorney, “not someone working for him (Montgomery).”
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.