Taking a bite out of the ABA Elephant: Part I

NOTE:  Analyzing/comparing all changes to Ascension’s Home Rule Charter proposed by A Better Ascension (ABA) requires multiple meetings of the Home Rule Charter Revision Committee.  Likewise, examining those changes cannot be accomplished in a single piece.  We endeavor to compare the current charter with ABA’s beginning with this offering.

For comparison’s sake ABA’s proposal will appear in red textcorresponding language in the current charter included in italics. Coincidentally, your writer intends to delve into ABA’s proposal as a member of the revision committee tasked with vetting it.  Some of that analysis is included herein.

On Thursday multiple Council members publicly expressed unwillingness to place ABA’s proposal to amend the 25-year old Home Rule Charter unless, and until, the plan is “thoroughly vetted.”  ABA focused its sales pitch as a straight-up trade, appointed parish manager for elected parish president without examination of the details in a headlong rush onto the December 2018 ballot.  If recent pronouncements by multiple Parish Council members are not just talk, ABA’s inclusion on that ballot is highly improbable.

https://pelicanpostonline.com/?p=32882

“I know there’s been scheduled experts from ABA who are, obviously, going to be pro-ABA,” recognized Councilman Benny Johnson on Thursday.  “What is the committee doing to make sure we have an alternate opinion brought forward to that committee so that they can thoroughly vet that particular item as well as the rest of them before that committee?”

To date, nothing.

Created by council resolution on February 15, the Home Rule Charter Revision Committee is scheduled to hear expert(s) designated by ABA on May 14 and May 21.  The resolution tasked the committee with budgeting for experts which could only be approved by the Council.  Early discussions were had, but no action taken.

According to one ABA member its expert or experts has/have been identified and engaged though his/her identity/identities would not be revealed; not to your writer anyway.  That secrecy is in keeping with its modus operandi; ABA has refused to disclose its financial contributors since incorporating as a non-profit on in February of 2017.   Nothing like a detailed examination of the sweeping changes proposed by ABA has ever been undertaken, much less completed.

On April 23, time to jam ABA’s proposal onto a 2018 ballot growing short, Council Chairman Bill Dawson “let the elephant out of the room;” he drafted the February 15 resolution which was, unbeknownst to the committee and Dawson’s Council colleagues, aimed at placing ABA’s proposal on the ballot this year.  Let’s start taking a bite out the elephant.

ARTICLE III-Parish Manager (versus current ARTICLE III-Executive Branch)

Section 3-01:  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.

Section 3-01:  Qualifications

The president shall be elected at large from and by the qualified electors of the parish according to the election laws of the state for a four (4) year term and shall reside in and be a qualified elector of the parish for a period of two (2) years immediately preceding the time established by law for qualifying for office.

  • What is meant by ABA’s requirement, “with not less than five years of experience in city, parish/county government administration at a managerial or executive level?”

There’s nothing to prevent the hiring of MPA/MBAs right now, to perform whatever function the parish president/Council deem necessary and/or appropriate.  In fact, it is within the council’s purview to create and define any position within parish government it deems advisable (which would change if ABA has its way, but that is a discussion for Article IV).  Examples include: Chief Administrative Officer, Director of Public Works, Infrastructure Division Director, Utilities Director, Human Resources Director.

Section 3-02:  Appointment, Contract, Compensation and Removal

A.  The parish manager shall be appointed by the governing authority (i.e. the Parish Council). The appointment shall require the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of the membership of the governing authority.  Such appointment shall be subject to the approval of a written contract of employment with a term of not less than twenty-four months but for a term that may not extend more than eighteen months beyond the term of office of the membership of the governing authority making such appointment.

  • So one police jury, er, parish council can saddle the next parish council with a parish manager?  Suppose there are wholesale changes to the parish council at the ballot box.  The new council would be saddled with the existing parish manager whose employment may extend “eighteen months beyond the term of office.”  That’s 3/8 of the new council’s term.

There is no corresponding language in the current charter since the parish president is elected by vote of the people.  There is one striking change in ABA’s 3-02 which originally required only “a favorable vote of not less than a majority of the members” of the governing authority to appoint a manager, as opposed to two-thirds in its current proposal.  The original draft would have required six, as opposed to eight, Council members to appoint a parish manager.

  • Appointment “shall be subject to the approval of a written contract of employment” without any mention of a salary range.  How much is the council willing to pay a parish manager?

Section 3-02: Compensation 

The president shall receive a minimum salary of $55,000.

Section 3-02. B.

The governing authority shall either engage the services of a national search firm or empanel a nominating committee to develop a pool of candidates for appointment as parish manager.

This is different language than ABA’s original plan, unveiled in July of 2017, which included no paragraph “B.”  ABA’s original Section 3-02 appears in blue

The parish manager shall be appointed by the governing authority only from candidates presented to the governing authority by the nominating committee, which appointment shall require a favorable vote of not less than a majority of the members thereof. Such appointment shall be subject to the approval of a written contract of employment with a term of not less than twenty-four months but for a term that may not extend more than eighteen months beyond the term of office of the membership of the governing authority making such appointment…

Recent national searches conducted to fill vacancies have not gone so well in Ascension, even with SSA Consultants’ participation.

“National Search” for new Infrastructure Director to last 4 DAYS

And it isn’t just parish government that manipulates the process.

https://pelicanpostonline.com/?p=14078

The “National Search” to replace retiring School Superintendent Patrice Pujol identified 47 candidates from across the country, pared the list down to six, brought candidates in to be interviewed… then scrapped the entire charade.  The School Board hired the guy that a majority wanted all along; even though David Alexander had not even applied for the position.

None of which is to say that Alexander is not doing a bang up job.  But the National Search was a sham.

ABA’s nominating committee procedure for identifying Ascension’s parish manager, a convoluted process and tedious to decipher, merits its own analysis.  It will be addressed in Part II.

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