[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish Council strikes down proposed charter amendments, approves fire staffing increase

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Jul 2 09:20:40 EDT 2014

St. Bernard Parish Council strikes down proposed charter amendments,
approves fire staffing increase
Print Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Benjamin
Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 
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on July 01, 2014 at 10:25 PM, updated July 01, 2014 at 10:54 PM

After lengthy discussion, the St. Bernard Parish Council on Tuesday evening
struck down all four proposed charter amendments that in part would have
given council members more power over parish contracting, hiring council
employees and appointments to boards and commission. One amendment also
would have changed the wording of a 2009 amendment to explicitly state that
council members could hold another elected public office immediately
following their tenure on the council.

The Parish Council also passed an ordinance amendment that eliminated some
post-Hurricane Katrina language and thereby now requires more parish fire
stations to remain open with more regular staffing.

In terms of the charter amendments, all four still would have had to go on
the Nov. 4 ballot for parish voters ultimately to decide their fate. But now
because they failed to pass the council, it means that an opinion from the
state attorney general's office, not a vote by the people, likely will
determine whether council members can hold another elected public office
immediately following their council tenure.

Guy McInnis, council chairman, requested that attorney's general opinion
last month. McInnis has argued that the current charter language does not
prevent council members from immediately seeking and holding another public

That charter provision states that a "council member shall hold no other
elected public office, or any compensated appointive office or employment of
the parish government or compensated office of any state political
subdivisions until one year after leaving office."

At the Tuesday evening council meeting, Earl Dauterive, who is a member of
the parish planning commission, voiced his opposition to amending that
charter language.

Dauterive ran unsuccessfully against At-large West Councilman George
Cavignac in 2011 for Caignac's current seat. Dauterive has argued that under
that charter provision, Cavignac should have been prevented from running.

Cavignac was the District B councilman when he beat Dauterive in the 2011
race to fill the at-large seat vacated by Frank Auderer. And Dauterive has
said that Cavignac should have had to wait a year out of office before he
ran for the at-large post.

Dauterive said on Tuesday that allowing council members to run for another
office without a waiting period "builds a lot of power, and it builds a lot
of problems."

Charlie Ponstein, a former parish police juror, councilman and parish
president, said he had no problem with amending the charter language to
allow council members to run for office immediately after leaving office,
but he said he was against the other amendments because they would put too
much power in the council's hands and upset an important balance of power.

Ponstein said that while being a police juror had its positives, in that
elected officials acted as "both legislators and administrators," he pushed
to change to the current parish president and council system because the
police jurors ultimately wielded too much power. "We used to call them
fiefdoms," he told the council.

"No government is perfect, but this form of government has much more checks
and balances than a police juror did," he said. "I think the changes that
you are trying to make, even if not intentional, are bringing it back to the
police juror-type system, where council members are handling daily issues. 

"So, please reconsider introducing these and working with the

Following the council's decision to strike down the amendment language, St.
Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta was overjoyed.

"The charter does not need to be amended," he said to a NOLA.com |
Times-Picayune reporter following the council meeting. "I think we would
have been returning to the days of old and that would have been a negative
for this parish." 

In terms of the fire department changes, while the parish fire department
previously was required to have at least 105 employees, the new language
requires that department have 110 employees. That is the department's
current staffing level.

Also while ordinance language added after Katrina had allowed that employee
count to dip and fire stations to close in part "during the period of
recovery," the amended language eliminates much of that, requiring stations
to be open with much more regularity.

Fire Chief Tommy Stone said he hopes the ordinance will help lower the
parish's insurance rating. He has said the fire rating process, which likely
will take about two weeks, is expected to start July 15 and that he would
hear about any rating improvements by this fall.

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