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The Gray Line Tour

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / September 29, 1998

Local governments in the River Parishes are a mixed bag of efficiency and egotism. As a reporter who has covered all three, and with a littleexperience at covering parish and municipal government in southeast Louisiana, from Plaquemines to East Baton Rouge parishes, I feel a little qualified to talk about this subject.

From time to time, even council members ask me how other councils operate. I usually beg off from making comment.Look at St. James Parish. It’s a short agenda, generally, and the parishpresident’s office appears to handle an endless number of matters administratively, without dashing to the Parish Council for approval on everything. It’s rare to have more than two ordinances in a month ofmeetings and many things are handled with little or no discussion. Theremay have been raucous meetings in the past, but I haven’t seen them. It’sall handled quickly, efficiently and with professional respect and aplomb among members.

To be sure, there are always underpinnings of rivalries among the members, if you pay close attention to such details. However, publicconduct is generally kept on a high level, respectful of the offices they hold.

St. Charles Parish, on the other hand, generally has a massive agenda, with15-20 new ordinances at every one of its twice-monthly meetings. Theyappear to have a near-obsession with Robert’s Rules of Order and every meeting is filled with substitute motions, tabled matters and discussions at length.

Indeed, on many ordinances, every single blessed councilman feels the need to talk, not once, but twice. Then, there’s public hearings on everyordinance, which generally stretches out the meetings. And, to my ownhumble opinion, many of these ordinance matters can be handled administratively.

One important difference I might point out between St. James and St.Charles Parish Councils is cable television. St. Charles airs its meetingslive. There are no TV cameras in the St. James meetings.To be sure, some things need to be discussed at length. Perhaps not somany, though.

And there’s St. John Parish Council, currently the leader in shouting,finger-pointing and snarls. It was not always so. Not long ago, St. CharlesParish’s held that rank. In St. John, at present, there is unseemingshouting from some councilmen, cat-calls from the audience and I even heard foul language at the latest meeting. And this is live on cable.Do I have recommendations? I might suggest dropping the cable TV coverage, as it seems to generate speechifying from certain council members. However, it should be seen and heard from as many as possible.I would only suggest the councils look at themselves and then strive to do better. A lot of voters, and their children, are watching.

Leonard Gray is a reporter for L’Observateur.

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