Inside Report: Take me out of the ballgame

Warm up the bus, coach.

Whatever the outcome of the Livingston Parish Charter Review Commission, parish officials likely will spend most of their post-game interviews explaining why so many player substitutions were needed after the seventh-inning stretch.

Five of the commission’s 10 members have resigned since March 18, with four saying the group stretched not only its legs but its credibility in recent weeks.

The most recent players needing substitutes — Chairman Jimmy Durbin and Commissioner Todd Caruso — announced their exit April 1, just two weeks after Commissioners Rick Ramsey, Earl Price and Rocky Brown Jr. called it quits.

The battle over public perception began almost immediately, with all but Price saying the commission balked March 18 when it reversed a previous decision on the parish president’s power to sign contracts without council approval.

The group voted 5-4 against limiting the president’s authority on Feb. 17, then reversed course and voted 6-4 in favor on March 18.

Ramsey said that reversal, which followed discussions on the topic at three separate meetings, opened the group to criticism for backroom politicking to change votes.

Brown said the vote also ran counter to the legal advice of the district attorney and the commission’s own legal adviser.

Durbin and Caruso echoed those sentiments April 1.

Caruso said the commission had become less concerned about the public’s best interest and focused instead on “undermining a primary tenet of a home rule charter plan of government: the separation of powers between the council and the administration of the parish.”

Durbin said the group had made “ill-considered proposals” for amending the charter against the advice of attorneys, including the group’s own legal adviser.

“In years to come when Livingston Parish looks back to this effort, I do not want any reference to Jimmy Durbin,” he said.

But the remaining five commissioners said those who resigned were just tired of losing and decided to take their ball and go home.

“Thank God our forefathers didn’t feel the same way,” commission Vice Chairwoman Bridgette Rushing said.

Commissioner Bob Watts said he believed the departed commissioners’ reasons for quitting were “disingenuous” and a signal that perhaps they had forgotten the commission makes only recommendations, not law.

“The final arbiter is the people,” Watts said. “And I feel like they’ve been disserved by the actions of some of the people on this committee.”

The question now is who will emerge from the dugout to finish the game.

Parish President Layton Ricks, who appointed Durbin, said he will not recommend a replacement.

“It’s become quite clear that some on the commission have an agenda, and I just don’t want to subject anyone else to what’s going on there,” Ricks said.

Councilwomen Joan Landry and Sonya Collins, who appointed Caruso and Ramsey, said it may be difficult to find someone willing to pinch hit for only three meetings before the commission’s deadline, but they will try.

Council Chairman Ricky Goff said he already has a couple players in mind to replace Price, or any other commissioner whose council member doesn’t send in a substitution.

Either way, the commission is going to need one phenomenal save if it wants to keep spectators in the stands.

Heidi Kinchen covers Livingston Parish government for The Advocate. She can be reached at hkinchen@theadvocate.com.