It was a terrible idea while it lasted, a “figurehead” president of Ascension Parish with ceremonial duties likened to the British monarchy by The Advocate’s op-ed page. Fortunately, A Better Ascension’s (ABA) ploy to dupe qualified electors into believing they would retain the vote for Ascension’s chief executive was dispensed with in one day (excluding the weekend).
A unanimous Ascension Parish Home Rule Charter Revision Committee, having already recommended “The Council-Manager form of government be put on the ballot in December; and that we finalize the word for word language of the Council-Manager Charter no later than June 18,” balked at the idea of adding a parish president back into the mix. The recommendation was adopted by a 6-4 vote on Wednesday.
ABA finalized its proposal to amend the 25-year old charter late Friday afternoon after committee member, Rodney Hernandez handed out the group’s 11th hour changes at the last meeting (5/30) which would have paid the “ceremonial” president $76,800 salary, plus full benefits because…
“Talking with Mr. Danny (Garrett, the lawyer hired by ABA to draft its proposal), everybody’s concerned about giving up a vote for parish president. So he’d come up with some language about adding a parish president as a ‘figurehead’ (Hernandez actually hand-gestured air quotes). And he gave me some legal wording I’d like to pass out to the committee. I know it’s last minute but everybody can take a look at it.”
On Monday the Charter Revision Committee’s first order of business was to delete four sections of ABA’s final proposal, all related to the “figurehead” parish president, without objection. Then it proceeded to the original proposal which abolishes the parish presidency in favor of a parish manager. The committee addressed Section 3-05: Qualifications:
The parish manager shall hold a Master of Public Administration (M.P.Adm., M.P.A., or MPA) or Master of Business Administration (MBA) post-graduate degree, awarded by a university or college accredited by a federally-recognized accrediting agency, with not less than five years of experience in city, parish/county government administration at a managerial or executive level. The parish manager shall be a resident of Ascension Parish or establish such residency within ninety days of the beginning of the term for which he is appointed, and maintain such residency during his term.
The MBA option was eliminated, before proceeding to the manner in which a parish manager is to be selected. ABA proposed a seven-member nominating committee:
a. The nominating committee shall be composed of seven natural persons, all of whom shall be qualified electors of Ascension Parish.
i. The governing authority shall appoint five persons.
aa. One appointee shall be a managerial or executive employee with a company doing business in Ascension Parish that is recognized as one of the ten largest employers in Ascension Parish by
the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
bb. One appointee shall be selected from a pool of nominees, one provided by each recognized Rotary organization operating within Ascension Parish. In the event that none of the Rotary organizations provides a nominee, then the appointee shall be select in accordance with (dd).
cc. One appointee shall be either the Superintendent of Ascension Parish Schools or the Chancellor of River Parishes Community College. In the event neither agrees to serve, an additional appointee shall be made in accordance with (dd).
dd. Two appointees shall be Ascension Parish residents selected from a pool of applicants developed from a public solicitation by the governing authority. Any qualified elector of Ascension
Parish may apply.
ii. The Board of Directors of the Ascension Chamber of Commerce shall appoint one person, who should be a person qualified to evaluate and make recommendations for the appointment of
a Parish Manager.
iii. The Parish President shall appoint one person but shall not have the authority to appoint himself/herself.
As to the last, since the parish president had already been deleted out of ABA’s proposal, some work was left to be done. Instead, the Revision Committee just deleted the entire nominating committee from ABA’s proposal. How to select a parish manager now?
Retained in ABA’s proposal is:
Search firm – The firm shall be a professional organization with experience in coordinating and operating a search for an executive level position.
Which leaves an awful lot to chance in the view of one committee member (your writer) who insisted that procedures, any procedures, for conducting the parish manager search be spelled out. In the end it was decided to hire an expert, a sorely needed one in your writer’s opinion, to advise the committee’s future proceedings (and not one retained by ABA, no disrespect intended to Dannie Garrett).
Which should have happened when the committee convened on March 15 (according to the February 15 Parish Council resolution that created it):
“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 Committee may also contact experts to report to committee with the cost to be paid from the General Fund of Ascension Parish.”