W. Feliciana seeks Oct. 19 election for parish president

Without objection, the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury voted Monday to ask Gov. Bobby Jindal to call an Oct. 19 election for parish president, a new position established by a home-rule charter approved last year.

A 4-3 majority of jurors voted June 27 to call an Oct. 19 election on repealing the charter, but former charter commission member Z. David DeLoach is challenging the repeal election in court.

A hearing on DeLoach’s request for a restraining order to block the repeal vote is scheduled Wednesday before 20th Judicial District Court Judge William G. Carmichael.

DeLoach’s petition also includes a section asking the court to order the parish president’s election on Oct. 19. He said after the meeting that the jury’s Monday night vote does not make that part of his lawsuit moot.

The deadline for submitting the election call to state authorities is July 17, and DeLoach said he hopes the judge will order jury officials to submit the necessary resolution by the deadline.

Jury President Ricky Lambert did not call for a roll-call vote on the election resolution. Asked after the meeting if she voted for the resolution, repeal supporter Lea Williams replied, “I didn’t abstain, and I didn’t object.”

Williams, John Kean, Otis Wilson and Melvin Young voted to put the repeal question on the ballot, which led to recall petitions being circulated against Kean and Williams.

Becky Hilliard and Amy Betts, the recall leaders in Williams’ district, and DeLoach urged the jury Monday to put the parish president’s race on the Oct. 19 ballot.

Claire Mott, a neighbor of Williams, told the jury the parish president should be on the October ballot “because that is proper,” but she defended Williams and the other three jurors who voted for the repeal election.

Mott said she is concerned about sections of the charter and voted against it on Nov. 6, when it was approved by 337 votes.

She said she has discovered that other people feel the same way, but are afraid to speak out because of verbal attacks to which she said charter opponents have been subjected.

Mott said the four jurors should be commended “for standing up for what they think is the proper course for this parish.”

If the president’s election is held, qualifying will be Aug. 14-16. A runoff election, if needed, would be Nov. 16.

Jurors also acknowledged the resignation of Jerald Jones, a Baton Rouge attorney who had been hired to give jurors advice about submitting the charter and Parish Council districting plan to the U.S. Justice Department for approval under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling removed the need for Justice Department approval, called “preclearance,” and Jones said the parish no longer needs the services for which he was retained.

“This will remove any confusion as to whom the jurors should turn for advice on the election, charter interpretation, and apportionment/districting issues the parish faces,” Jones wrote last week.

District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he and Assistant District Attorney Mike Hughes will represent the jury in Wednesday’s hearing. However, he said, they are likely to also need an attorney with Jones’ expertise in voting rights matters.

D’Aquilla said he expects black voters to challenge the home-rule charter and the Parish Council districting plan under other provisions of the Voting Rights Act left intact by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

He agreed to recommend some possible attorneys but said the jurors should also submit names for consideration.