Public outcry in St. Charles results in new proposal on future conventions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2005


Staff Reporter

HAHNVILLE — After extensive public outcry against the number of St. Charles Parish employees and officials who attended the National Association of Counties convention, an ordinance designed to put a cap on who attends in the future will be presented for approval of the council at the meeting on Monday.

The last council meeting saw several citizens of the parish blast the council for allowing such a large group to go to the NACo convention in Honolulu last month, at a taxpayer expense of over $50,000.

The parish sent a delegation of 22, which included eight of the nine council members and the parish president. However, council clerks and typists were also in attendance.

Ganesier “Ram” Ramchandran, Council Member District 3, said a number of people came and spoke and the feeling was that it was a complete waste of money.

“It is a reasonable complaint,” Ramchandran said, “But the biggest complaint is not the council members attending, but the clerks, typists and such. I don’t have an answer for that, they are not people I authorized to go.”

In response to the public criticism, Ramchandran and Councilman District 6 Richard “Dickie” Duhe will be introducing an ordinance to restrict the number of people attending out-of-parish conferences. The ordinance will be discussed and voted on at the Council’s next meeting on Aug. 23.

Duhe said he and Ramchandran felt they had to address such a public outcry, and that, years ago, only the council members, the parish president and the chief administration officer attended the convention.

“I think it’s the way it should be,” Duhe said, “And that seems to be the feedback I am getting from the citizens.

St. Charles sent the largest delegation from the area, with Orleans Parish sending one official, and St. John Parish sending three.

According to the ordinance, some of the St. Charles council members hold leadership roles in NACo, and that the convention has largely benefited the parish. According to published reports, 17 officials attended the conference last year, when it was held in Phoenix, and five attended in 2003, when the convention was held in Milwaukee.

The ordinance proposes that even numbered district council members will be allowed to attend the conference on even numbered years, while the odd numbered attend on odd numbered years.

Also, the Council Member at Large for the East Bank would attend on the odd years and West Bank on the even years. It suggests that the Parish President be allowed to attend every year after considering the economic conditions of the parish.

All other employees would have to justify their attendance, and receive council approval.

Duhe also said the adopted budget for the parish allows council members over $11,000 in “training and travel,” and he will ask parish administration to change the budget.

“I feel it’s too much,” Duhe said, “None of the council members are near spending that much money.”

When asked how he believes the ordinance will be accepted, Duhe said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Ramchandran said with a “hot issue” such as this one, it is hard to predict what may happen, and he hopes the matter does not get tabled.

“It will be a huge black cloud the next meeting,” Ramchandran said, “Show up, it should be fun.”