25 years ago Ascension voters, by a wide margin (64% to 36%), opted for Home Rule adopting the Charter which has been amended once to revise the Employee Appeals Process. Those of us who pay attention to such trivialities concur that it could do with further tweaking, others believe drastic changes are in order. While A Better Ascension’s (ABA) current push for Parish Manager governance seems dead, at least delayed, it is unfortunate that less revolutionary ideas to improve the charter met their demise, collateral damage in the war of words fought over ABA’s agenda.
The committee’s 6-4 vote on May 30 recommended placing Parish Manager charter changes to the Council, prior to considering those changes, for inclusion on the December 8 ballot.
A second recommendation was made by a unanimous committee that very same date which could have forced the Council to approve or deny all actions by the Planning Commission. The intent of its author, your writer as it happens, was to make an elected Council the final say on subdivision preliminary plats which have been rubber-stamped by Planning as a matter of course. The change was also added to the final ABA draft forwarded to the Council and soundly rejected on July 19.
The committee included other charter amendments not specific to Parish Manager governance in the final draft which died along with ABA’s proposal. Term limits will not appear on a ballot, neither will a measure to reduce the signatures necessary to successfully petition for future charter amendments.
30 or so items were discussed and tabled for future discussion during the Charter Revision Committee’s first eight meetings, yielding to four ABA presenters on May 14. None of those items were brought back as the final six meetings were dedicated to ABA’s agenda with the committee deciding to call it quits on June 18. That is unfortunate.
Among those items which will not be discussed further, much less appear on a ballot, affect:
- The Parish Council’s configuration (possible reduction of the 11 current seats)
- Limiting a council member’s tenure in the chair to two years
- How the parish president and council members are compensated
- Long-term budgeting for capital projects
- Extending prohibition against president/council member post term employment by the parish
It’s all due to the machinations of Chairman Bill Dawson who continually catered to ABA in the attempt to maneuver its proposal onto a ballot.
On February 15 the Parish Council adopted a resolution establishing a Home Rule Charter Revision Committee. Drafted by Dawson, it read (in pertinent part):
“To establish the Home Rule Charter Revision Committee for investigation of changes to existing charter. The Committee shall use the following as sources of investigation but may not be exclusive list:
- Public input form Committee of the Whole meetings in 2017
- Charter Review Task Force Report of January 2, 2003
- Home Rule Charter Commission Report dated November 5, 2009
- (the Council would later amend the resolution to add consideration of ABA’s proposal by the Council’s Strategic Planning committee on August 10, 2017)
The Charter Revision Committee shall report its findings and recommendations to the Parish Council by May 31, 2018.”
Councilman Randy Clouatre would qualify his support of the resolution, saying:
“I just want to make sure, as this committee goes forward, that the members of that committee understand what they’re charged to do.”
Clouatre did not get his wish.
Unbeknownst to most, the May 31 deadline was imposed so that ABA’s proposal could make its way onto the December 8 ballot. Unnecessary as it turned out when Chairman Dawson revealed the true deadline, July 31. Dawson’s wielding of the chairman’s gavel since January 2017 allowed ABA one, after another, after another opportunity to push its agenda.
Dawson claimed to have the votes necessary to place Parish Manager revisions to the Charter on the ballot…in 2017. The claim was made two weeks prior to ABA’s corporate filing with Louisiana’s Secretary of State. ABA presented its proposal, a very rough first draft as it turned out, last summer and Dawson began the push.
He convened a Committee of the Whole on August 3, 2017 “with the specific task of publicly vetting the charter amendment proposed by A Better Ascension.” When it foundered after the second of three scheduled meetings it was Chairman Bill Dawson who drafted the resolution adopted on February 15.
The way it was drafted, one could have reasonably concluded that charter revisions unrelated to ABA would be considered and acted upon. In fact, eight meetings into the Charter Revision Committee’s proceedings and Parish Manager governance had not been addressed. It was all an elaborate hoax which accomplished nothing more than wastage of time which could have been devoted to actual vetting of ABA’s proposal.
That lack of vetting was cited by multiple of Dawson’s colleagues who voted against forwarding the Charter Revision Committee’s May 30 recommendation to a ballot.
“The majority of committee members were focused on (ABA’s plan). That wasn’t the reason I voted to form that committee,” Councilman Todd Lambert explained his rejection. “I’m kind of upset with that.”