Taking a bite out of the ABA Elephant: Part VI (the Council marginalized)

NOTE:  Certain of our readership has inquired about a meeting, actually two meetings, between your writer and members of A Better Ascension.  Yes, I did meet with Brandon Trosclair, an ABA stalwart who happens to sit on the Charter Revision Committee alongside me.  We met at his place of business Wednesday morning and again the following day when two more ABA members attended with the attorney who assisted in drafting ABA’s proposed charter amendments.

We actually discussed the changes to Ascension’s 25-year old charter ABA is pushing, a task which the committee has yet to undertake.  While your writer does not support the parish manager form of governance sought by ABA, if voters will be asked to decide the question it should be the best document we can make it.  It was in that spirit we met; and I applaud Trosclair for so graciously inviting me to discuss this important piece of business.

As Ascension’s Home Rule Charter Revision Committee approaches its (artificial and entirely arbitrary) May 31 deadline imposed by the Parish Council for reasons of Chairman Bill Dawson’s own, we continue to digest A Better Ascension’s Elephant.

For comparison’s sake ABA’s proposed changes will appear in red text. Where corresponding language to ABA’s proposal exists in Ascension’s current Home Rule Charter exists, it will be included in italics, with commentary when deemed appropriate.  We proceed to Article IV: Governing Authority (which means the Parish Council).

Understandably, ABA does not propose wholesale changes with only three of Article IV’s 23 sections affected.  While not extensive, ABA’s suggestions are momentous.

ARTICLE IV. GOVERNING AUTHORITY

(No changes in 4-01 through 4-08)

Section 4-09: Secretary to the Council

The governing authority shall have a Secretary, whose duties shall include keeping the official minutes of the meetings of the governing authority, signing ordinances and resolutions denoting the votes for and against thereon, certifying copies of minutes, resolutions and ordinances, and such other duties as may be prescribed by ordinance and not inconsistent with any provision of this charter.  The Secretary shall be appointed, disciplined and terminated at the will of the governing authority.  The governing authority shall set the compensation for the Secretary of the Council.

  • There is no corresponding provision in the current charter.  But current 4-09 is deleted in ABA’s proposal (see below).

NOTE:  This one is evidence of Bill Dawson’s involvement in drafting ABA’s charter.  As the Council’s chairman, he is well-versed in the dysfunctionality of having the Council Secretary report to the parish president.  In fact, the Council enacted an ordinance earlier this year formalizing the position and making clear that the secretary is answerable to the Council.

Section 4-09: Removal of Department Head

The governing authority may remove department heads by favorable vote of at least two-thirds of its membership.

  • Effectively, ABA’s charter divests the Council of significant powers and authority.
  • And vests an unelected parish manager with powers no elected parish president has ever enjoyed.

(No changes in 4-10 and 4-11)

Section 4-12: Powers in General

(No changes, other than grammatical, in a-d)

Without limitation of the foregoing  authority or other powers given to it by the charter, the governing authority may:

(e) Upon recommendation of the parish manager establish, merge, reorganize, consolidate, or abolish parish departments, offices, or agencies, by an ordinance adopted by a majority vote of the governing authority.  Advisory boards and commissions may be created by an ordinance or approved by a majority vote of the entire governing authority.  Members of advisory boards or commissions shall be appointed and/or removed by the parish governing authority, and shall report to the parish governing authority.

 

  • ABA’s revision merges paragraphs (e) and (f) in the current charter while retaining the language in 4-12 in italics above.  Added language appears in bold.

-compared to-

Section 4-12: Powers in General.

Without limitation of the foregoing authority or other powers given to it by the charter, the governing authority may:

(e) Create parish departments, offices, or agencies in addition to those created by this charter, by an ordinance adopted by a two-thirds majority vote of the governing authority.  Advisory boards and commissions may be created by an ordinance approved by a majority vote of the entire governing authority.  Members of advisory board or commission shall be appointed and/or removed by the parish governing authority, but shall report to the parish president.

(f) By ordinance, abolish or consolidate any parish department, office, agency, board or commission or provide for the consolidation and transfer of any of the functions of such departments, offices, agencies, boards or commissions.

  • The Council’s existing power, to establish, merge, reorganize, consolidate, or abolish parish departments, etc. would be contingent upon a recommendation of the appointed parish manager.
  • That parish manager’s recommendation could be effectuated by a simple council majority as opposed to the current two-thirds super-majority required to do so.

(paragraphs “g” through “k” unchanged, save renumbering due to “f” consolidation in “e”)

(Sections 4-13 and 4-14 unchanged)

Section 4-15: Compensation of Parish Manger, Parish Officers and Parish Employees.

The governing authority shall fix the compensation of the parish manager and appropriate funds therefore.  The governing authority shall appropriate funds to be used to fund the compensation of all employees and officers of the parish except as otherwise provided in this chapter.  The governing authority shall have discretion in the amount of the aggregate appropriation for all other employees or officers of the parish, but the determination of the compensation of an individual employee or officer shall remain within the authority of the parish manager, subject to the limits of the aggregate appropriation and except as otherwise provided in a salary schedule adopted in accordance with this charter.

-compared to-

Section 4-15: Compensation of Employees.

The governing authority may fix the compensation of all employees of the parish except otherwise provided by this charter.

  • This marks an enormous shift in power away from the legislative branch, providing all manner of opportunity for the parish manager to engage in patronage.
  • The governing authority’s power of the purse would be stripped because it shall appropriate funds to be used to fund the compensation of all employees and officers of the parish…but the determination of the compensation of an individual employee or officer shall remain within the authority of the parish manager…”

(Sections 4-16 through 4-23 unchanged)

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