Russell Jack

Officials in St. John the Baptist Parish last week swore in a new registrar of voters, the first time a parish in Louisiana did so since voters amended the state constitution to set stricter standards for the job.

Russell Jack, who spent 14 years on the parish's School Board, narrowly secured a majority of the Parish Council to win the appointment Jan. 24, with five of the nine members backing him. He was one of three applicants who were nominated. 

Jack said he was "confident" he is up to the job. He cited a long history of public service, having previously worked for the parish as a roads and bridges inspector and an assistant to the parish president.

He also said he was excited to be shifting gears after more than a decade of helping to oversee the parish's public schools.

"This job was something I could do to still serve the community, still be a part of the community, and not be too involved in politics," Jack said of the registrar's post.

Not all council members were thrilled with the outcome of the vote, however, saying they would have preferred a candidate with more experience.

The council faced unusual scrutiny over the decision, members said, because the appointment came just months after Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring candidates for registrar to have a certain amount of education or work experience.

Registrars are now mandated to have a bachelor’s degree from a college or university plus two years of work experience; an associate degree and four years of work experience; seven years of full-time work experience; or five years of experience in a registrar's office. The work experience must be "professional" in nature, according to the statute.

Parishes are now required to publicize a vacancy through news releases and official notices.

According to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, the requirements were designed to "help shake Louisiana’s historic reputation of patronage and incompetence" and make sure that registrars have the skills to handle a job that has become increasingly demanding in the digital age.

Registrars, who are responsible for overseeing all elections and registration of voters in their parish, have lifelong appointments.

"The process actually had us shaking in our shoes when we heard from the DA what our responsibilities were," Councilman Larry Snyder said during the Jan. 24 council meeting. "It's been a task, actually."

According to the Secretary of State's Office, the registrar of voters in St. John can make between $64,188 and $88,851 a year, depending upon experience. The salary is set according to population levels, with registrars of more populous parishes being paid more.

Registrar Rita E. Jarrow stepped down from the job Dec. 31 after holding the position since 2013.

The council hired an outside firm to vet the dozen candidates who applied to replace her. That firm whittled the list down to the four deemed most qualified under the law.

Despite the help with the vetting process, four council members either voted against Jack or abstained from voting.

Snyder was among them. During the council meeting, he told his colleagues he had gone "through every résumé." Of the dozen people who applied, Snyder said, Mary Numa, who had served as interim registrar since Jan. 1, was most qualified.

Julia Remondet abstained from the vote on Jack after nominating Monica Joseph, who worked in the parish Clerk of Court's Office for more than five years. "She was the better choice for the job," Remondet said. 

Larry Sorapuru, the councilman who nominated Jack, disagreed. He described Jack as a "grassroots leader" who had served the community in numerous capacities and was "a very good communicator" who "didn't mind going the extra mile."

"He'll be observant to what’s in the records and will make sure people get registered to vote," Soraparu said. "He’s going to encourage people to participate in the democratic process."

Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.