West Feliciana continues move toward parish president, council

West Feliciana Parish police jurors mustered enough votes Monday to kill a move to call an Oct. 19 election on the question of repealing the parish’s home-rule charter.

The item was added to the initial proposed agenda on Friday, which, under the jury’s rules, required a two-thirds vote to consider it. Jurors defeated the addition, 3-4.

Jurors Lea Williams, Ricky Lambert, Heather Howle and Melvin Percy voted against adding the special election to the final agenda, while Melvin Young, Otis Wilson and John Kean wanted to add it.

A companion measure to take unspecified action regarding the jury’s special attorney, Jerald Jones, for implementing the home-rule charter garnered a favorable 4-3 vote to add it to the agenda, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed under the jury’s rules.

Williams joined Young, Wilson and Kean in wanting to discuss the attorney’s role in the process.

After seven consecutive roll-call votes to approve the final agenda, jurors recessed to move the meeting to the courtroom in the old courthouse next door because more people wanted to attend the meeting than the state fire marshal allows in the jury meeting room.

Many of those attending urged the jury to begin moving to implement the home-rule charter by moving forward with a parish president’s election.

“We’re going to be the laughingstock of this state if we don’t get this done post-haste,” said Jack Hanemann, who chaired the Home Rule Charter Commission.

Highland Road resident David Norwood asked people in the audience to stand if they support moving forward with the parish president’s election, and most of those in attendance responded favorably.

Voters approved the home-rule charter by a 337-vote margin in November. The charter calls for replacing the Police Jury system with a parish president and parish council with one at-large member and four council members from single-member districts.

Later in the meeting, after hearing from Jones, jurors voted, 4-3, on Percy’s motion to seek U.S. Department of Justice approval of the overall plan, including the election of a parish president.

Jones said a Justice Department official told him the jury could submit the home-rule charter plan, with a parish president, for pre-clearance under the federal Voting Rights Act with the possibility of electing a parish president in an Oct. 19 election.

“Do we want to push for a parish president election or do we not?” Jones asked.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules Thursday or Monday that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, the jury could move forward with the election without Justice Department approval.

The jury hired Kenner demographer Cedric Floyd to develop a plan for dividing the parish into four council districts. If the council plan gets Justice Department approval and is not voided by a lawsuit, the five council members would take office when the jurors’ terms expire Jan. 1, 2016.

Floyd and Jones differ on whether the parish president can be submitted to the Justice Department separately from the four-member redistricting plan.

Anthony Long, who is black, predicted black residents will file a lawsuit against the jury under another provision of the Voting Rights Act that is not under challenge

“Section 2 is the strongest part of the Voting Rights Act,” Long said, and former Parish Manager Ambrose Sims said the at-large council seat violates that section.

Percy’s motion requires Floyd to submit the necessary documents to the Justice Department by July 19, or the jury will ask Jones to submit the plan.

Williams, Percy, Howle and Lambert voted to seek federal clearance for a parish president’s election, while Young, Kean and Wilson dissented.