West Feliciana leaders changing

Voters OK parish president charter

Following voter approval of a proposed home-rule charter in Tuesday’s election, West Feliciana Parish voters could be casting ballots April 6 for their first parish president.

Voters approved the charter by a vote of 2,659 to 2,337, according to unofficial returns from the Secretary of State’s Office. The unofficial voter turnout for the proposition was 65.9 percent, according to the office’s website.

The charter was written by a special commission appointed by the Police Jury last year and calls for a five-member Parish Council and a parish president.

One of the council members will be elected in parishwide voting, and voters will choose the other four in districts established by the current jurors.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Hughes said charter provisions pertaining to the organization and structure of the Parish Council will take effect at the end of the current seven jurors’ terms, which have three more years to run.

The seven jurors will continue representing their districts through the end of their terms, but the jury will be known as the Parish Council when the parish president takes office.

The charter’s other provisions take effect at midnight on the 30th day after the charter election results are promulgated by the Secretary of State’s Office, Hughes said.

The secretary of state has until Nov. 19 to promulgate the returns, said Meg Casper, press secretary for Secretary of State Tom Schedler.

A parish president must be elected on the next available state election day, which is April 6, Hughes said. Qualifying for the post will be Feb. 13-15.

Police Juror Lea Williams announced Tuesday night she will run for the office. Former state Rep. Tom McVea, who also served on the Police Jury, said he is considering a run for parish president, but has not made a final decision.

“I didn’t think it would pass, but it did,” McVea said.

“I wasn’t surprised that it passed because most of the people I’d been speaking with said they were going to vote for it,” said Jack Hanemann, chairman of the charter commission.

“Change comes slow up here. It was a very pleasing thing to have it pass on the first try.”

Juror Otis Wilson also said he was surprised that the measure won voter approval. Wilson and three other black residents, including Juror Melvin Young, urged voters in a pre-election mailing to reject the charter, saying the new council will dilute black representation in parish government.

They also said no blacks served on the charter commission, which was appointed by the jurors who left office Dec. 31.

Lula London, who joined Wilson, Young and the Rev. John Lee in signing the mailed election piece, was the only black resident to apply for a seat on the commission, but jurors said she was ineligible to serve because she had a pending lawsuit against the parish.

Wilson said he is not sure the jury can equitably divide the parish into four districts that would not dilute the voting strength of black residents.

“I know we’re going to write letters to the Justice Department and have them look at it,” Wilson said.

Hughes and Hanemann said the U.S. Department of Justice will have to preclear the redistricting plan before council members can be elected from them.

They said, however, they are not certain whether the Justice Department must approve the election for parish president.

The charter says the parish president, who will be in charge of day-to-day operations, will be paid an annual salary equal to the average of the salaries of the clerk of court, sheriff and assessor. Council members will be paid $800 per month without retirement or other benefits.

Council members and the parish president are limited to two full terms in office.