West Feliciana charter battle generates recall petitions, lawsuit

A high-stakes political war over the future of West Feliciana Parish’s government escalated Tuesday with recall petitions circulating and a lawsuit filed to force implementation of the parish’s newly adopted home-rule charter.

Voters are being asked to sign petitions in attempts to recall two of four police jurors who voted Thursday to call an election on repealing the charter.

Former Home Rule Charter Commission member Z. David DeLoach filed suit to halt the repeal election and force a parish president’s election as required by the charter.

The seven-member Police Jury also called a special 5:30 p.m. Monday meeting to discuss the president’s election.

“The purpose of this suit is to tell them they have to do two things: take the repeal off the ballot and put the parish president on the ballot. We’re only trying to get the jury to comply with what’s in the document,” DeLoach said.

Twentieth Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael set a 9:30 a.m. July 10 hearing on the lawsuit.

The Secretary of State’s Office received petitions Tuesday on District 1 Police Juror Lea Williams and District 5 Juror John Kean, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Tom Schedler.

Rebecca Hillard is the chairwoman of the District 1 effort, while Amy Betts is the co-chairwoman.

James Richard Wood and Ellen Kay Kennon are leading the effort against Kean.

Parish Registrar of Voters Cheryl Decoteau said Hilliard and Betts must obtain the signatures of one-third of the 1,127 registered voters in District 1, or 376, to force a recall election on Williams.

To successfully call a recall vote on Kean, Wood and Kennon need one-third of the district’s 1,083 registered voters, or 362, to sign the petition.

District 1 includes the town of St. Francisville, while District 5 runs north from the town to the Laurel Hill area and east to Thompson Creek north of La. 10.

The petition organizers have 180 days to gather the necessary signatures, Decoteau said.

Hilliard said both groups are holding a 6:30 p.m. meeting July 11 at Hemingbough to gather signatures for the petitions.

Williams, Kean, Melvin Young and Otis Wilson joined Thursday to call an Oct. 19 election on the question of whether the charter that voters approved in November should be repealed.

During the special meeting, charter supporters urged the four to call an election for the new parish president’s position in order to implement most of the charter’s provisions, except for seating a new, five-member parish council that includes one at-large member.

“They’re absolutely within their right to do so,” Kean said Tuesday, referring to the recall leaders in his district.

“I suspect one of them might run for office. If they’re that passionate, they should,” he said.

Williams said she voted with the majority of jurors who feel the voters should decide if the four single-member council districts proposed by the charter would be considered legal and offer equal representation throughout the parish.

The redistricting plan must not dilute minority voting rights but also be equal in population, she said.

“We have not been shown that this can be done,” Williams said.