Pointe Coupee Parish voters in November will have the opportunity to reshape parish government should they approve a home rule charter.
But the game-changing proposition is drawing mixed reviews from members of the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury, which this week accepted the final draft of the charter and called for the special election on Nov. 8.
“It was just a formality we went through. It wasn’t a vote saying we were for the home rule charter,” jury President Cornell Dukes said Thursday about the unanimous vote Tuesday.
“I’m sure, as the election gets closer, more jurors will get more involved in the process,” Dukes said. “A majority of the jurors prefers the current government structure.”
The Police Jury was obligated to set the election once it decided to create the 11-member Home Rule Charter Commission in August. The Police Jury did so after years of pressure from residents who pushed for a drastic change in the parish’s government but who were unsuccessful in doing so through a petition.
The commission spent nine months outlining a new governmental structure for Pointe Coupee that would call for a parish president and eight-member parish council.
The public was given its first peek at the charter during a series of public meetings in May before the final draft was presented to the Police Jury this week.
Term limits for elected officials and when and how the transition in government would take place were the hot topics of those public meetings.
Dannie Garrett, the attorney who guided the commission through its draft of the charter, said Thursday the home rule charter proposal would limit council members to three consecutive four-year terms and the parish president to four consecutive four-year terms.
If voters approve the proposal, the parish would then hold elections for the parish president and the eight council members in fall 2018, Garrett said. Those elected would take office in January 2019, at which point, the parish’s 12-member Police Jury would cease to exist, he said.
The council members will be elected from eight single-member districts mirroring the parish’s School Board districts.
Each council member would be paid $1,200 a month. The parish president, who must be at least 25 years old and have lived in Pointe Coupee at least a year, would be paid $110,000 a year.
The charter proposal includes language shaping the parish’s administration through five departments — including administration, public works, parks and recreation, and finance — to be headed by directors appointed by the president, subject to the parish council’s approval.
“Me personally, as juror, I think this is something that needs to happen for Pointe Coupee Parish,” Juror Justin Cox said Thursday. “It sets up a checks and balance between the president and parish council. This is more-accountable government for the people. You have two sets of people you can hold accountable. That is the most important thing.”
Cox, who has been outspoken in the past about inefficiencies within the parish government and unfair voting blocs on the Police Jury, also said shrinking the governing body to eight members would better serve a parish of Pointe Coupee’s size. The parish population, as recorded in the 2010 census, was 22,800 within its 591 square miles.
“There are too many jurors now,” he said.
But not everyone on the Police Jury agrees.
Newly elected Police Juror Edward “Pop” Bazile has several concerns with the proposed charter. He’s worried it gives the parish president the authority to push out longtime parish employees. Bazile also doubts eight council members are enough to keep up with the demands of constituents, a struggle for the 12-member jury now.
Bazile said he intends to speak with officials from other parishes that have made the switch but are now struggling with regret — like West Feliciana Parish — before he makes up his mind about the Pointe Coupee charter proposal.
“There are pros and cons with both,” Bazile said. “I know we’ve have problems in the past, but now that I’m a juror, I’d like the opportunity for people to see what we can do. We’re actually doing a lot better. We’re making the right decisions for the people of the parish.”
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