Judge bars West Feliciana home rule charter repeal vote

A state district judge ruled Wednesday that the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury cannot call an Oct. 19 election on the question of repealing the home-rule charter parish voters approved last year.

Twentieth Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael issued a preliminary injunction barring the election after a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Z. David DeLoach, one of the commission members who helped write the charter.

DeLoach filed the lawsuit July 2 after the Police Jury voted 4-3 on June 27 to call an election to determine if voters want to repeal the charter, which voters approved Nov. 6 by a 337-vote margin.

Carmichael said the charter now is the “organic law” for parish government, but it will not be fully implemented until a parish president is elected.

Until then, the jurors have no authority under the constitution or state statutes to call a charter repeal election, the judge said.

If they did, a majority of the jury could call a series of elections until the voters chose the position favored by the majority, Carmichael said.

“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” the judge added.

As required by the charter, the jury also voted on July 8 to call an Oct. 19 election for parish president. Qualifying for the post will be Aug. 14-16.

If the repeal election had proceeded, West Feliciana Parish voters would have been faced with the unique choice of voting for a parish president candidate and deciding whether to do away with the document that authorized the office.

DeLoach’s suit also sought an order to force the jury to call the president’s election. Although the jury did so six days after DeLoach filed suit, attorney Dan Garrett asked Carmichael for an additional order to prevent the jury from undoing the election call, and the judge agreed with the request.

Carmichael declined, however, to order the jury to pay attorney fees for DeLoach. A separate lawsuit accusing three jurors of conspiring to block the charter’s implementation was consolidated with DeLoach’s petition.

The fallout from the June 27 try for a repeal vote led parish residents to begin circulating petitions seeking to recall Jurors Lea Williams and John Kean.

Organizers of the petition drive are holding a 6:30 p.m. meeting Thursday at Hemingbough to gather signatures and hold a discussion on the home-rule charter.

The seven-member jury will become a Parish Council after voters choose a president, and the charter calls for the council to have five members after the jurors’ terms expire.

The charter calls for four single-member council districts and one at-large council member.

Opponents have said the council makeup will dilute minority voting rights, the districts proposed by the jury’s demographer, Cedric Floyd, do not meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-standing “one-man, one-vote” ruling, and the charter grants too much power to the parish president.