St. Tammany Parish voters will get the chance to say yes or no to term limits for Parish Council members, the council decided Wednesday, but not on Nov. 21, when nine other proposed amendments to the parish’s home rule charter will appear on the ballot.
Instead, the proposal to limit council members to three, four-year terms will go before voters on March 5. If adopted, the clock will start Jan. 1, 2020.
Carlo Hernandez, who is running for the Parish Council District 7 seat, objected, saying the measure should go into effect sooner. He said the delay in implementing the possible limits might be the reason some council members have changed their minds about the measure, which the council rejected earlier this year by a large margin.
But Councilman Steve Stefancik said it is illegal to reduce the term of office of an elected official. Some Parish Council members already have been re-elected to new four-year terms because they didn’t draw any opposition in the upcoming Oct. 24 election, he said.
Five candidates were elected without opposition. Four are incumbents: Jerry Binder, Gene Bellisario, Maureen O’Brien and Red Thompson. Mike Lorino, who ran for Reid Falconer’s open seat, also did not draw an opponent.
The Parish Council voted 12-0 to put the term-limit measure on the March 6 ballot.
Two council members, Marty Gould and Chris Canulette, were absent.
Term limits have been the most hotly debated issue during a review of the 15-year-old home rule charter that began a year ago. The Parish Council voted in June against putting term limits on the ballot but revived the question in August when two members who had voted against it, Bellisario and Marty Dean, asked to reconsider their votes.
The council was set to vote on all the charter issues at its August meeting but found it had failed to properly advertise them. For that reason, the council convened a special meeting Wednesday.
The council voted 11-1 Wednesday to put nine other amendments before the voters, with Councilman Jake Groby casting the dissenting vote. The council then voted unanimously to put those amendments on the Nov. 21 ballot.
In contrast to other meetings on the charter, Wednesday’s drew a small audience and only three public comments — two of them opposing term limits.
The other proposed changes, which have been debated extensively, drew no comment, although one of them — the question of who will provide legal representation for the parish government — has generated controversy recently.
District Attorney Warren Montgomery has strongly opposed an amendment that would remove the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office as the parish’s legal adviser. Montgomery has said he agrees that the parish administration should have its own attorney but believes his office should continue to represent the Parish Council.
It was Montgomery who pointed out the council’s failure to properly advertise the charter amendments after seeking a state attorney general’s opinion on whether the council had made a procedural error.
But Montgomery, who was in the audience, did not speak at Wednesday’s meeting, and no one else addressed the issue.
The amendments that will go before voters in November include a provision to require a review of the charter every 15 years.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.