Finally, Livingston charter commission to make its recommendations

Instituting term limits, removing the parish president’s line-item veto power, allowing the Parish Council to create an in-house legal department and clarifying that council approval is required for unbudgeted expenditures are among the recommendations Livingston Parish’s Charter Review Commission will put before the Parish Council at a special meeting.

The date of the special meeting has not yet been announced.

The commission’s recommendations must receive Parish Council approval by July 23 to be placed on the November ballot.

In its final meeting Wednesday night, the nine-member commission again rehashed what has been its most difficult and controversial topic: how to prevent a parish president from signing contracts without council approval.

The search for that answer hamstrung the commission for weeks, leading in large part to the resignations of four of the original 10-member board.

Under the parish’s Home Rule Charter, the parish president may sign contracts for any services or items specifically identified in the budget or by ordinance. Any services or items not specifically identified require council approval.

The commission majority has offered several amendments to that provision in an attempt to curb what some commissioners have described as unauthorized contracts signed in secret.

Examples cited include an engineering contract for the parish’s road overlay program and an engagement letter with the parish’s legal team in an arbitration case with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In both cases, the Parish Council found out about the contract months after Parish President Layton Ricks signed it.

The commission had discussed setting a financial cap beyond which all contracts, whether budgeted or not, would require council approval or allowing the president to sign unbudgeted contracts up to a set limit.

But the idea of including a financial limit was discarded Wednesday night, when the eight commissioners present first split 4-4, then reconsidered and unanimously approved an amendment to merely clarify, rather than change, the charter provision.

The recommendation in its final form states that unbudgeted contracts must receive council approval “prior to signature of the parish president.”

In other business, the commission gave legal adviser Bob Morgan the authority to draft a proposed charter provision that would establish a mediation process designed to keep the parish’s legislative and executive branches from suing each other.

Under the proposal, whenever the two branches are at odds, they would seek an opinion from the parish legal adviser.

If the legal adviser could not resolve the dispute, each side would select one person to serve on a three-member mediation panel. Those two mediators would then select the third.

If, after mediation, either side wants to file suit over the issue, the public officials filing suit would have to pay the legal fees personally. Parish money would be used only for the mediation, Morgan said.

Morgan will present the details of his proposal directly to the Parish Council for consideration.

Other recommended changes include: limiting the parish president and council members to three consecutive, four-year terms; removing the parish president’s power to issue line-item vetoes to the budget; increasing the age and residency requirements for parish president and the age requirement for council; and giving the council the authority to establish a parish legal department or hire its own attorney.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.