The St. Bernard Parish Council this week will take up proposals that would amend the parish’s home rule charter to give the council more authority to hire staff, make appointments and approve major contracts — moves that would shift power away from the parish president.
The measures, introduced earlier this month by Council Chairman Guy McInnis, are slated to be voted on Tuesday. If approved by the council, they could be scheduled for a public vote in November.
Under one change, the Parish Council would be required to approve all contracts worth $25,000 or more. At present, the president approves all contracts.
Under another, the council would be able to hire its own staff, “including clerical assistants to the clerk of the council.” The charter currently allows the council to hire only a clerk.
Another proposed amendment would give the council more control over board appointments, by putting members in charge of submitting names for the parish president to choose from, rather than accepting the president’s single selection.
Currently, a five-member Appointments Review Board, made up of business and community leaders, considers applicants for boards or commissions and selects three names for each open position. They are sent to the parish president, who then selects one name and puts it before the council for approval.
Parish President David Peralta said Friday that he opposes the proposed changes, which he said would push the parish back toward a police jury form of government, where the council ultimately controls both the legislative and executive branches.
Peralta and McInnis — considered likely opponents in the race for the parish’s top post next year — have different views of the policy jury setup, which was abandoned by the parish decades ago. McInnis believes it “wasn’t necessarily bad for our type of community,” but Peralta contends that it “doesn’t function well.”
“All this (package of amendments) does is it sets up a system that’s going to tie the administration’s hands completely, and it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Peralta, who was indicted by a state grand jury in April on a charge of sexually battering his wife, said he believes the proposed changes are politically motivated. At the time, three Parish Council members, including McInnis, called on him to resign in the face of his legal problems.
Peralta’s wife, Sharon Peralta, has said her husband raped her in October at their Meraux home. Peralta has denied it, saying the couple instead engaged in “rough sex” on her 49th birthday, at her request.
Last month, an Arabi resident began a recall effort against Peralta that seeks to remove him from office before his term ends next year.
Peralta, who described the proposed amendments as “regressive” and “somewhat of a personal attack,” said the idea of giving the council the final say on appointments and contracts is misguided.
“What they’re essentially trying to do is handle the executive side,” he said. “There’s no need for this. We have total transparency in this government, and I don’t think that will ever change.”
But McInnis sees it differently and said the proposals should be put to a vote so residents can decide.
He wants the council to be able to hire additional employees to “provide more oversight of the executive branch,” and he suggested that having someone oversee parish contracts and projects would be beneficial.
“The budget needs to be an ongoing thing. Right now, you have a finance department that is 100 percent controlled by the executive branch. We need that, but on the other side, all you have are seven part-time councilmen, and most of them have full-time jobs,” he said.
McInnis said it’s not that the council needs a lot of extra help, but that the citizens “need more eyes on the ball, if you will.”
He added, “That’s not to say anything is wrong that’s going on now, but we still don’t have a lot of information that this independent branch might be able to put together for us.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.