Charter repeal on West Feliciana Police Jury agenda

A proposal to call an Oct. 19 election for a possible repeal of West Feliciana Parish’s home-rule charter created a firestorm of criticism when it appeared on the early agenda for Monday’s Police Jury meeting.

Juror Lea Williams said the agenda item generated “a lot of hostile calls” after the initial agenda arrived in email inboxes Wednesday afternoon.

The amended agenda released late Friday afternoon still includes the election item, but juror Melvin Young, who put it on the agenda, said Friday morning he was “still kicking it around” on whether to table it at Monday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting.

Juror Otis Wilson, who has opposed the home-rule charter from the beginning, said Friday that he and Young probably don’t have enough votes to call a repeal election.

Parish voters approved the home-rule charter written by a special commission by a 337-vote margin on Nov. 6, but none of its provisions has been implemented.

The plan calls for the seven-member Police Jury to be replaced by a parish president and a five-member council, with one council member running at-large and the other four elected from districts.

“I’m against the home-rule form of government. I like the police jury form,” Wilson said Friday.

“Sometimes a charter works in some areas, but it always depends on how it was written. This one was written for the rich and famous,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who is black, said he is particularly concerned that the charter reduces minority participation in parish government and reduces the number of election districts from seven to five.

Z. David DeLoach, who served on the panel that wrote the charter, was quick to respond to the initial agenda’s release, sending an email to a large group of parish residents and urging them to “flood the chamber” Monday night.

“There can be only one reason for this proposal: they are running scared of losing control and power and will pull any string to avoid the process determined by the voters. That is not their job,” DeLoach wrote.

DeLoach said the charter requires the jury to immediately begin the redistricting process, but he charged that the jury and Cedric Floyd, the Kenner demographer favored by the charter opponents on the jury, have been dragging their feet.

DeLoach said Floyd also refuses to keep the redistricting attorney the jury hired, Jerald Jones, “in the loop” on implementing the charter.

Floyd delivered a proposed redistricting plan to the jury in March, saying it has two majority-white districts and two that are majority black. Three of the current jury districts have black majorities, but a white juror was elected from one of them.

Assuming that a white member would be elected in parishwide balloting, Floyd said in March, the difference between the jury districts and those he proposes is “a wash” the U.S. Department of Justice will accept.

Williams said Monday’s meeting may not be the proper forum to discuss the issue of a repeal election.

“It should be in a special meeting to give the people an opportunity to be heard,” she said.

“I have no problem with a repeal election if the people realize the home-rule charter is not what they wanted, but I want to follow the correct procedure,” she said.

Walter Oliveaux, who
also served on the commission, said some jurors, after seeing Floyd’s plan, are realizing they may no longer be serving in the parish government. The charter also cuts salaries from the $1,200 a month jurors currently receive to $800 a month for the future council members, and eliminates benefits and retirement for council members, he said.

“I don’t think they can pass it,” Oliveaux said of a proposed repeal. He said the jurors today are less popular than they were when elected in 2011.