Reducing size of Council, parish-wide seats among ideas forwarded by Charter Revision committee

As the Ascension Home Rule Charter Revision Committee is set to convene for a third meeting, unencumbered by analysis and devoid of discussion as momentous changes to the parish’s founding governmental document are haphazardly proposed, the headlong rush to ballot on December 6 (when disgracefully low voter turnout is anticipated) continues apace.  On April 9, constrained by the 50-minute time limit, the committee forwarded four ideas to overhaul “the governing authority,” i.e. the Parish Council.  Reduction in size; making seats on the Council full-time jobs; having one (or more) Council seat(s) contested in parish-wide elections…all forwarded for future consideration.

Proposal No. 1:  Maintenance of the current 11-member council, but with one (1) at-large seat won in a parish-wide election.  The latter could (would) be elected specifically as the Council’s chairman for the next four years.  Current Council Chairman, Bill Dawson spoke in favor of the idea mentioning unidentified sources which have concluded its benefits.  Given the 50-minute cap, and Committee Chairman Roy Quezaire’s new-found emphasis on celerity, the pros and cons were not deliberated.

Your writer, in his capacity as committee member, opined that the topic might be one meriting some of the expert testimony discussed at length during the previous meeting.  Of course, that would require adopting a budget to hire such expertise which was, in fact, included in the February 15 resolution whereby the Parish Council created the Charter Revision Committee.  Since the terms of that resolution have been roundly ignored, the committee will continue to wing it, careening from one topic to another sans meaningful deliberation.

Proposal No. 2:  Keep 11 Council seats with two, maybe four seats contested parish-wide in at-large districts.  It is the brainchild of another Council member, Aaron Lawler, who opted to serve on the Revision Committee rather than designate a mere Ascension citizen.  Curiously, when Council Chairman Dawson convened a Committee of the Whole (comprised of all 11 council members) to consider revisions to the Charter proposed by A Better Ascension, Lawler was among seven who skipped the second of three meetings.  The Committee of the Whole was never disbanded, not officially anyway.

Committee member Lawler, in the weeks leading up the Revision Committee’s initial meeting, had proposed three “at-large” seats, combined with eight districts.  He did not defend his (was it really a) proposal in detail, which had much to do with the ticking clock it seemed.  Supposedly, all the ideas will be tabled until some future meeting date when recommendations to the Parish Council will be voted upon.  How much information, expert testimony, actual deliberation (if any) is had remains to be seen.

Proposal No. 3:  Reduction of council seats to seven, all representing districts but making council service a full-time job.  One would think full-time pay commensurate with heightened expectations would be a necessary adjunct but the committee did not get anywhere near that far.  Councilman Randy Clouatre, who appointed Harold Jarreau to serve on the committee, has openly spoken in favor of the idea.

Currently council members are paid the maximum allowed by the Home Rule Charter, $1600/month in keeping with Louisiana law for police jurors.

Proposal No. 4:  Reduction of council seats to seven, with four districts and three at-large seats.

This idea was discussed by a future (and founding) member of A Better Ascension, the “non-profit” established to replace Ascension’s parish president with a manager, before ABA’s incorporation papers were filed in February of 2017.  Since that member is now manages the Political Action Committees for Louisiana Association of Business & Industry he has gone silent.  The idea never made it onto ABA’s official proposal, probably because four council members asked to give up their seats would never vote to place ABA’s proposal on the ballot.

The committee is scheduled to meet today at 5:00 p.m. with an agenda that includes Sections 4-05 through 4-23; The Governing Authority.