What might a radically new government for Catahoula Parish look like, a government with separation of powers, and “checks and balances”? Last week we began exploring a president-council form of government under a home rule charter by looking at the council. This week continues that exploration.
Previously we have urged a parish-wide redistricting reducing the number of wards or districts to five. The pay suggested for each council member would be $600 per month plus documented, reasonable expenses but not to include reimbursement for travel within the parish. This is on a par with parish governments having much larger populations to serve than Catahoula has.
Of course, compensation may be increased or decreased but not during a sitting council’s term of office and council members would not in any case be entitled to fringe benefits such as health or life insurance or retirement benefits. Furthermore, a council member would not hold any other elected office nor be a compensated official of any of its subdivisions while serving on the council.
At its first meeting and annually thereafter the council would elect from its number a chair and vice-chair. The council would adopt an ordinance specifying their time and place of meeting which would be no less than once per month, and the council’s meetings would be open to the public consistent with state law.
The council would make provision for public input at its meetings and would post an agenda two business days prior to the meeting not to include Saturday, Sunday or holidays. A list would be available at the place of meeting and prior to the beginning of the meeting those wishing to address the council might sign their name to the list and specify the issue they wished to address before the council that very night. Currently the people may address the agenda only by signing up a week in advance before speaking. But typically in Catahoula they won’t even know what is on the agenda until two days in advance.
The council would conduct its meetings consistent with the protocols set forth in the latest edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. At this point Catahoula’s police jury meetings seem to proceed without reference to parliamentary procedure as commonly understood.
When the council voted, each individual council member’s vote on every question would be recorded. Presently only one police jury member may actually vote on a question and neither that single vote nor the eight abstentions is recorded by name. The presumption seems to be that only the jury member representing the ward in which some work is proposed should vote. This effectively creates nine little dictatorships. It is a form of political cronyism that protects politicians and leaves the people vulnerable and without recourse. It disenfranchises constituents who may have conflicts with their jury representative leaving the citizen without representation in local government. But the fact is that the money spent in one ward comes from taxes paid in every ward. All jury members should have their action recorded on every question, even if it is only an abstention from voting.
The council would still have a clerk who kept the minutes of the council’s meetings and performed whatever other duties the council assigned.
A resolution of the council would not have the force of law but would express the council’s opinion on a matter. Ordinances, however, would be acts of the council having the force of law.
Next week we’ll examine ordinances, their introduction, adoption and types.