Councilman proposes admin submit all documents for legal review; admin says effort would bog down government

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, May 22, 2019

EDGARD — A push by St. John the Baptist Parish Council members to require parish President Natalie Robottom submit proposed contracts or ordinances to the District Attorney’s office for legal approval in a more timely manner could effectively grind government to a halt, according to the parish’s top executive.

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux’s proposal is an apparent outgrowth of the growing frustration Council members have experienced during the past several months when the D.A.’s office, in its legal report to the Council, often notes the documents for some contracts arrived too late from administration for a legal opinion to be rendered in time for a Council meeting.

Consequently, an increasing number of agenda items, especially during the Finance Committee meeting when the majority of such proposals are discussed or go up for vote, are being tabled.

“We’ve been having problems,” Perrilloux said.

Following discussion earlier this month, the proposal was tabled and is expected to be considered for approval or further tweaking May 28.

Robottom is outspoken in her opposition, saying the proposed law “conflicts with the parish president’s executive power to administer, direct and supervise all parish departments, officers, agencies and special districts.”

She said the proposed timeline (up to 30 days before a scheduled Council meeting) is unreasonable and would only further delay the work of the parish.

She explained some vendors provide as little as a week for a contract approval, placing greater urgency on the administration and legal branches of government to effectively work together.

Robottom also said the parish charter provides alternative options for legal services, “which may be more suitable based on the current pace of government.”

“If we could get the documents earlier (to legal advisers) we would,” Robottom added. “It’s a constant cycle. Our process will not change.”

She also said it should not take “40 days (for the D.A.’s office) to review one page.”

Although representatives of the D.A.’s office attend every meeting, no one spoke during the discussion held during the May 14 meeting.

Council members also questioned the necessity of having the D.A.’s office review recurring annual contracts with the same vendor, but Robottom said those documents needed to be reviewed in case the vendor changed any language, no matter how minor.

“This is government, things come up,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. We are working, you see us working. We are not sitting around doing nothing.”

Councilwoman Julia Remondet said such an ordinance could be the first step to blurring the lines of power between two branches of government, which she opposed.

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard Gaudet said sending contracts to legal for review is a good idea but “clear lines of separation” must be maintained.

“The timelines are not reasonable and will not be met,” Robottom emphasized. “It will delay projects even further. It is not an effective way of doing business.”

She reiterated such an ordinance would circumvent the charter, which vests all executive power to the parish president.

“Both are outside the Council’s and D.A.’s authority,” she said.

— By Richard Meek