Two more resign from Livingston charter commission

Livingston Parish’s 10-member Charter Review Commission is half of its former self after two more commissioners, including the chairman, resigned Tuesday night.

Only five commissioners remain.

Chairman Jimmy Durbin and Commissioner Todd Caruso called it quits before roll call Tuesday, saying they no longer wanted to be associated with a group they say has strayed from its purpose of improving the parish’s Home Rule Charter.

Unsure whether five commissioners would constitute a quorum, the remaining group held an open discussion of the resignations without addressing the meeting agenda or taking any votes.

Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff, who attended the meeting, said the council will consider appointing replacements on April 10 in hopes of filling enough seats for the group to move forward by its next meeting date of April 15.

If any council member cannot fill the seat of a resigned commissioner, Goff said, he may take it upon himself to do so.

Parish President Layton Ricks said Tuesday that the group had made a mockery of its purpose, and he will not recommend a replacement for his appointee, Durbin.

The commission began to disintegrate March 18 after reversing a vote taken a month prior concerning the parish president’s power to sign contracts without council approval.

The parish’s charter says the president may sign contracts only for items “specifically identified” in the parish budget or an ordinance.

All other contracts must receive council approval.

Commissioner Scott Jones sought at both the Feb. 17 and March 18 meetings to restrict the president’s discretion to sign contracts unilaterally to those less than $25,000.

The commission voted 5-4 against the measure on Feb. 17, then 6-4 in favor of it on March 18.

Reading his resignation aloud Tuesday, Caruso said the commission had become less concerned about the public’s best interest and focused instead on “undermining a primary tenant of a home rule charter plan of government: the separation of powers between the council and the administration of the parish.”

Durbin said the group had made “ill-considered proposals” for amending the charter against the advice of attorneys, including the group’s own legal adviser.

“In years to come when Livingston Parish looks back to this effort, I do not want any reference to Jimmy Durbin,” he said.

Commission legal adviser Bob Morgan had spoken against the change adopted on March 18, saying the charter provision at issue was “black and white” and should not be amended.

The first commissioner to resign, Rick Ramsey, had said the commission’s vote reversal undermined the group’s credibility by opening it up for criticism of back-room politicking to change votes.

The remaining commissioners disagreed Tuesday, saying the resigning members — except Earl Price, who resigned for personal reasons — quit only because they were on the losing end of the vote reversal.

All five vowed to remain on the commission.

Commissioner Lana Averette said it was disappointing the resigning commissioners had chosen to “pack up their toys and go home because they didn’t like one thing.”

The group’s vice chairwoman, Bridgette Rushing, said the commission’s work is only to make recommendations, not law. Those recommendations must ultimately be approved by the Parish Council, placed on a ballot and voted up or down by the public.