Just weeks after the St. Tammany Parish Council rejected a measure that would have let parish voters decide whether to impose term limits on council members, it looks like the idea is back up for discussion.
On June 4, the council voted 11-3 against putting a charter amendment before voters that would have limited Parish Council members to three terms. The three members in favor of putting the matter on the ballot were Reid Falconer, Maureen O’Brien and Jake Groby.
But when the agenda for the Aug. 6 meeting was published this week, the same resolution appeared again, backed by two council members who voted against it last time: Marty Dean and Gene Bellisario.
Dean said he had been “on the fence” about the idea the last time it came up. He said conversations with some of his colleagues since the initial vote have given him a sense that residents are angry that they did not get to have the final say.
“There seemed to be people who really felt strongly about it,” said Dean, who is running for his fourth term in October.
Dean didn’t single out any group as having influenced his decision, but he did allow that a series of statements in support of term limits by the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce “spurred the conversation.”
After the council’s June vote, the chamber passed a resolution that said some 90 percent of its members favored term limits, and chamber CEO Lacey Toledano wrote a column in which she criticized the council for the way it went about studying potential changes to the home rule charter, which would be necessary to impose term limits.
Bellisario said he had been contacted and asked to second Dean’s motion but that he hadn’t made up his mind on how he would vote.
“I am not a supporter of term limits,” he said, adding that he had backed them for the parish president because that’s a full-time position, while Parish Council members are only part-time.
“I want to hear some strong valid reasons why we need to do it,” Bellisario said.
Dean said he had wondered, before the council’s first vote, whether it was just one “faction” who favored term limits. That faction, though Dean didn’t name it, was the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which has put term limits at the top of its priorities.
Rick Franzo, the group’s president, said he was dismayed by the council’s first vote and thought the issue’s return was a sign that some council members were feeling the pressure from his and other groups.
Even if the council hadn’t done anything, Franzo said, his group was gearing up for a petition drive to get the matter on the ballot through a referendum.
“People are upset that the Parish Council didn’t think they have the intelligence to vote on the matter,” Franzo said.
The matter is set to be introduced Aug. 6, which means the public hearing on the proposal will be Sept. 3. But that’s after the deadline to put proposals on the Oct. 24 ballot, when all of the other amendments to the home rule charter are set to go before voters.
With the governor’s race and other statewide elections on the ballot that day, turnout on Oct. 24 is likely to be relatively high.
But because of the deadline, if the term-limits resolution gets the required 10 votes it needs from the council — certainly not a given — it won’t go before voters until the spring, when turnout likely will be much lower.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.