Charter Commission looks for ways to resolve disputes in Livingston

— Livingston Parish’s soaring legal costs and disputes between the council and president drove much of the discussion at the Charter Review Commission’s meeting Monday.

Options the commission explored for resolving disputes more economically included allowing the Parish Council to select the parish legal adviser, changing how professional services contracts are approved and requiring mediation or arbitration whenever the two branches are at odds.

The commission’s legal adviser, Denham Springs attorney Bob Morgan, said the parish’s Home Rule Charter does not provide a way to compel a public official to abide by the charter if one branch believes the other has gone astray.

Instead, the disputes must wind up in court.

Because the District Attorney’s Office, which appoints the parish legal adviser, cannot represent one side against the other, each branch ends up hiring its own lawyer — with both being charged to the taxpayer, Morgan said.

A better option, Morgan suggested, might be to require the two branches to participate in mediation or arbitration.

Commission Chairman Jimmy Durbin pointed out that both sides likely would still hire attorneys to represent them in mediation or arbitration and would then also owe a fee for the mediation or arbitration.

Commissioner Bob Watts suggested giving the Parish Council the ability to opt out of having the district attorney appoint the parish legal adviser.

Under Watts’ motion, the council could instead choose to hire its own legal adviser for parish government or otherwise set up a legal department.

Watts’ motion was unanimously approved but, after further discussion, was unanimously voted for reconsideration at the commission’s next meeting.

Commissioners will examine the wording of that provision more closely.

Commissioner Scott Jones again sought support for requiring all contracts above a set amount, including for legal services, to receive council approval.

The commission instead agreed to invite District Attorney Scott Perrilloux and Finance Director Jennifer Meyers to the next meeting to discuss how those contracts have been handled.