Warning: I’m about to get seriously wonky on you.
There are bills moving through the Legislature that would let Algiers, that portion of New Orleans on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, break off and incorporate as a municipality of its own.
But there’s a big mountain to climb before this even gets close to happening.
First, by a two-thirds vote, legislators have to approve a statewide referendum in October for a proposed constitutional amendment that would enable the Algiers break to move forward.
Since the change would make it easier for communities in other parishes to do something similar, you can see why some legislators would oppose it, maybe enough to deny the measure a two-thirds supermajority.
But if the amendment actually makes it into the constitution, those who want to sever Algiers then have to start a new process. They would need the signatures of 10 percent of Algiers voters — probably not hard to get — on a petition to call another referendum.
Only Algiers voters would take part in the second referendum, and they would hold the future of New Orleans in their hands. They would decide whether Algiers stays a part of the city or becomes a separate municipality.
New Orleans is unique in that it is both a city and a parish. Yes, there are city-parish forms of government in Louisiana, but they’re not the same. The boundaries of Orleans Parish and New Orleans are identical; there’s no part of the parish that’s not also part of the city.
So the incorporation of Algiers would be different from similar moves in the past. Instead of taking an unincorporated area and turning it into a city, Algiers would be taking an already incorporated area and breaking it off to form a new city. If that succeeds, Orleans Parish would be entering uncharted territory.
As a separate city, Algiers would remain under the jurisdiction of existing parish entities: the district attorney, the assessor, the Orleans Parish Sheriff and the Orleans Parish School Board. Most criminal and civil legal matters would still be heard in the existing New Orleans court systems.
Officials for the new city of Algiers would be appointed by the governor until the next regularly scheduled election for municipal offices. That means that voters in a predominantly Democratic city would be turning over its affairs to an administration appointed by a governor who most likely would be a Republican.
Jan. 11, 2017, is the qualifying deadline for that year’s municipal elections. So if the new city is formed after that date, the first elections probably couldn’t be held until the spring of 2018 at the earliest.
The new city would be governed by the state’s Lawrason Act until it writes a home-rule charter. The act sets out the form of government for all municipalities that don’t have their own charters.
The default setting under the Lawrason Act is for an elected police chief instead of an appointed one. While voters may think that arrangement gives them greater control over law enforcement, it also creates a separate power center that competes with the mayor for political clout and taxpayer money.
A new charter could make the police chief an appointed office. But that raises another question: Who will appoint the charter-writing commission? Apparently, the unelected city officials who were named by the governor would have the authority to do that.
I’ve barely covered the legal minutiae — the wonky stuff — that would have to be considered if Algiers moves toward becoming a city of its own. There’s a whole lot more.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.