ST. FRANCISVILLE — The incoming West Feliciana Parish Council got a head start on learning about governing the parish’s business at an orientation session Dec. 4 at The Francis.
The three new council members — Sydney Picou Walker, John Thompson and Bill May — joined Melvin Young and Mel Percy, the two returning councilmen, at the informal meeting, along with department heads and staff from the parish office.
After introductory remarks from Parish President Kevin Couhig, the council-elect received briefings on the parish’s Home Rule Charter, Robert’s Rules of Order, parliamentary procedure and overall basic functions and responsibilities of the council. It also learned about the financial structure of the parish, the budget and the different funds and sources for revenue. They also considered committees and what issues they’ll be faced with immediately in January.
“It was a very successful retreat,” said Picou Walker, who served previously on the Police Jury from 1987-1991. “The only thing is we ran out of time. Basically, we went through the organizational chart of the parish office. We received an overview of the parish charter and things like the difference between an ordinance and a resolution. It was very beneficial and I thought a great idea. It was very well-organized and put together, and I wish the first time I served we had done something like that.”
The new council will be sworn in Jan. 11 and will attend an orientation by the Police Jury Association of Louisiana in Baton Rouge on Jan. 13.
“I wish somebody had been able to do that for me when I became Parish President,” Couhig said. “There’s so much information you have to learn so quickly. I think its main purpose was to give them information, so we’re all on same wavelength and start thinking as a body. I think the more they talk with each other and the more they talk with us, the better everyone will be.”
Several issues made for a rocky relationship between the Council and Couhig when he became the parish’s first elected president. There was often friction with some members over the council’s legislative obligations and responsibilities and his executive authority. He said at this juncture in the parish’s history it’s particularly important the transition from seven members to five is smooth, and it’s important they get off on the right foot.
“The most important thing we could do is demonstrate to the public we take their business seriously, and we will treat each other professionally and how to disagree without being disagreeable,” Couhig said. “We need to change the council to one of professional cooperation, rather than a circus.”
Bill McClendon, a retired attorney and an adjunct professor at LSU, discussed the importance of effective communication and listening.
“The biggest point that was made is that personal feelings need to be left at the door and that everybody is to be treated with dignity and respect,” Walker said. “We want to turn the council around so the public has restored faith in government.”
The orientation meeting is available for viewing online at WFParish.org.