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Director turnover within St. John Government leads to talk of rewriting Home Rule Charter

LAPLACE — The Oct. 12 election could become an opportunity for residents to amend St. John the Baptist Parish’s Home Rule Charter, but change cannot happen without public participation.

Few residents attended a Tuesday evening Charter workshop hosted by Parish Council members.

Director turnover and leadership vacancies inspired Councilman Larry Snyder to take a closer look at the Charter.

According to Snyder, amending the charter could help St. John Parish retain experienced directors so local government does not start over from square one with each parish president election year.

“As far as retaining good people, the system we have now is just not working,” Snyder said.

Snyder spoke on appointing a consultant or committee to take a thorough look at the charter, adopted in 1984.

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux did not agree with changing policy to retain directors, pointing to training as the best route to effective directors.

“To say I’m going to retain a director, it’s not fair to the person who’s coming in for this office as parish president,” Perrilloux said. “The team they bring may be a distinguished team. They might move this parish further than anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Perrilloux agreed with appointing committee members from the business community to look over the Charter, though he said any changes should not be rushed to meet an October election deadline.

Councilwoman Julia Remondet suggested looking to nearby governments to see what changes have been effective in their charters, while also taking steps to implement a drainage department.

According to Councilman Thomas Malik, only voters can amend the Charter, which outlines how all areas of St. John Parish administration are to operate.

“At the end of the day, the importance of us gathering for this workshop is to let the public know this document isn’t going to be approved by us,” Malik said.

“It’s going to be approved by the residents of St. John the Baptist. If there’s something in this document you don’t like, this is your opportunity to come to us and voice it.”

Under the Home Rule Charter, a nine-person Parish Council handles legislative matters, while an elected parish president serves as the administrator.

St. John Parish previously operated under the police jury system, which elected jurors to handle day-to-day operations as legislators and administrators.

Councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. clarified his stance on a possible return to a police jury form of government.

“I said the people I talk to, my constituents, think that’s something we need to do, just for the people that’s sitting here tonight and for the media to hopefully get that correct,” Sorapuru said.

Sorapuru said initiating any charter change in the October election would be “a nightmare” for the community because there will be no shortage of candidates trying to drive the process with their own opinions.

According to Sorapuru, the Parish Council should drive energy into improving everyday services for the community.

Warren Torres, a lifelong resident of Garyville, told Council members blaming the Charter for loss of directors or gaps in public service was “kind of missing the boat.”

Torres wants to see more participation from St. John residents in local government, both in director positions and in voicing Charter amendments.

Community member Rae McMurray said tying the hands of administration with retained directors is not in the best interest of the community.

“We have to trust that the citizenry elects a parish president that they feel can lead,” McMurray said. “The problem here is the Council needs to make sure that person only brings forth people who are qualified — not friends; not family — qualified persons to lead these departments.”

McMurray suggested giving more power to boards and implementing checks and balances for bad directors.

Amendment process

Amendments or repeals to the Charter may be proposed by a two-thirds majority of the Parish Council or public petition.

Any qualified voter may submit a proposal to Parish Council members, who specify a form of petition for circulation, according to the Charter.

Petitions must contain the full text of a proposed amendment or appeal and signatures from at least 15 percent of registered voters in the parish upon submission.

Each signer must also list his or her address or precinct and the date. Each person who circulates the petition must attach an affidavit stating the number of signers to verify each signature was made in the presence of the circulator.

The petition shall be filed at the St. John the Baptist Parish Government Complex within 60 days of specifying the form of petition. The Parish Council would have 30 days to determine authenticity of the signatures.

If deficiencies are found, the person filing the petition has 30 days to make corrections, and the Parish Council would determine final sufficiency 10 days thereafter.

If approved, the proposal falls into the hands of the voters at the ballot. A majority vote makes the amendment or repeal effective 10 days after election results are announced.

No amendment may reduce the term or the salary of any elected official during his or her term.

The Home Rule Charter is available at sjbparish.com under the Parish Council page.