Two resign from Livingston charter review commission

Two members of Livingston Parish’s Charter Review Commission have resigned, with one saying the commission is doomed and the other expressing confidence in the group’s work.

Commissioner Rick Ramsey, who also serves as Walker’s mayor, submitted his resignation after a contentious meeting March 18 in which the 10-member commission reversed a decision made a month prior related to the powers of the parish president.

Ramsey said Tuesday the commission’s reversal undermined the group’s credibility by opening the door for accusations of back-door politicking to change votes.

Commissioner Earl Price resigned Monday, citing unspecified personal reasons.

Parish Councilman Ricky Goff, who appointed Price, said Tuesday he was working to find a replacement. Councilwoman Sonya Collins, who appointed Ramsey, did not return messages seeking comment.

Ramsey said Tuesday, “The entire commission was doomed for failure from the beginning by the way it was made up.”

With the council members and Parish President Layton Ricks each appointing one commissioner, Ramsey said, the issues of distrust between the two branches automatically carried over into the group assigned the task of recommending changes to the parish’s Home Rule Charter.

Price took a different tone in his resignation letter, saying he was confident commissioners would “work hard to clear up the gray areas” in the charter “and make it a better document.”

Price said he regretted resigning but his other commitments had become too great for him to give the commission the time and energy required.

The commission decision that prompted Ramsey’s resignation involved a recommended change to a charter provision concerning when the parish president may sign a contract without council approval.

Under the existing charter, the president may act alone only if the project, equipment, professional services, materials or supplies are “specifically identified” in the parish budget or an ordinance.

Contracts for expenditures “not so identified” must receive council approval.

Commissioner Scott Jones opened a lengthy discussion Feb. 17 about whether there was any “gray area” in that provision, citing examples when the current and past parish presidents had signed contracts not “specifically identified” in the budget or an ordinance.

Jones proposed that all contracts for expenditures above $25,000, whether specifically identified or not, require council approval.

His motion failed 5-4, with Ramsey, Chairman Jimmy Durbin and Commissioners Bob Watts, Todd Caruso and Rocky Brown voting no.

Ramsey, Durbin, Caruso and the commission’s legal adviser all said the provision was clear as written. They said adding a dollar amount would transfer the president’s administrative authority to the council.

Jones reprised his concerns March 3, asking what repercussions are available if the charter is violated.

Jones agreed the provision’s language was clear but said general budget lines such as “professional services” had been used to justify unilaterally signing contracts for a range of things, including legal services, not approved by the council.

Jones suggested removing “professional services” from the provision altogether, but Durbin suggested instead addressing the parish’s legal bills at the next meeting when the district attorney and finance director could participate in the discussion.

On March 18, the commission again held a lengthy discussion over whether the provision had any “gray areas.”

Durbin, Caruso, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux and commission legal adviser Bob Morgan — all attorneys — agreed the language is clear, although they said its application to a particular scenario may not be.

However, when Jones made a motion to require council approval for unspecified contracts over $25,000, the vote swung his way, 6-4, with Watts changing sides to support the proposal.

Commissioner Lloyd “Bee” Martin, who had been absent Feb. 17, cemented the change with a yes vote.