Livingston commission makes recommendations on legal counsel

Livingston Parish’s Charter Review Commission vowed Tuesday to finish the job of recommending changes to the parish’s Home Rule Charter, despite the replacement of nearly half the board’s members in the past month.

Meeting for the first time since five of its 10 members resigned, the commission voted 8-0 to recommend the Parish Council be allowed the option of creating an in-house legal department.

Commissioner Lana Averette was absent. Parish President Layton Ricks has declined to replace former Commissioner Jimmy Durbin, who was Ricks’ appointment to the board.

The proposal for an in-house legal department was one that had been discussed before the turnover among commissioners.

Commission legal adviser Bob Morgan presented the group with a draft of suggested revisions to the charter’s provisions on legal counsel.

As adopted by the commission, the draft calls for the district attorney for the 21st Judicial District to still serve as legal adviser to the parish government. The Parish Council would have the option of severing that relationship and hiring someone else for the job.

The council would be empowered to hire someone else, whether full- or part-time, on either a temporary or permanent basis, “if the governing authority determines that the parish would be better served” by doing so.

A competing proposal offered by newly seated Commissioner H.L. Arledge, whom Councilwoman Sonya Collins appointed, would have required a “documented and recorded conflict” before the district attorney could be replaced in that role.

Also, under Arledge’s proposal, the parish president would be the one who appointed and set the salary for the replacement legal counsel, subject to council approval, which “should not be unreasonably withheld.”

The commission adopted Morgan’s proposal, with its less restrictive language, as its recommendation.

The commission’s recommendations will go to the Parish Council for review and possible placement on a future election ballot, giving parish voters the final say on which changes are ultimately adopted.

The commission set a revised deadline of June 12 for having all recommendations to the council.

Commission Chairwoman Bridgette Rushing said the group is neither making law nor playing politics, contrary to what some people have said since the recent resignations.

Newly appointed Commissioner Nick Lattimore, who also served on the committee that drafted the parish’s current charter, said the group should be careful not to confuse its role of updating the charter with trying to solve current political squabbles.

“Because odds are we will fail miserably and create a document too specific and too restrictive that will be worse than what we have now,” Lattimore said.

Commissioner Lloyd “Bee” Martin, newly elected as vice chairman and also an original charter committee member, said his interest is solely in doing what he can to move the parish forward.

“We have people here now with real commitment, and we’re going to finish the job,” Morgan said.