Voters to make new decision on Parish Council term limits

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

Iberville Parish voters will decide whether to limit the parish president and the 13 members of the Parish Council to three consecutive terms at an upcoming election.

The Parish Council voted 10-3 last week to place the proposition on the ballot. First Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi, who serves as parish attorney, said he was checking on when the parish could put the issue on the ballot.

The three councilmen who voted against revisiting the issue are among six who, along with Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr., will not be able to run for re-election unless voters approve the first amendment to the Home Rule Charter approved in 1997.

Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine, Leonard “Buck” Jackson of St. Gabriel and Salaris Butler of Seymourville, the longest serving police juror/parish councilman, cast the “no” votes.

Butler recalled that the Home Rule Charter Commission proposed term limits as a separate proposal on the same ballot as the charter.

“The people of this parish overwhelmingly voted to have term limits inserted into the charter,” Butler said.

“We’re on restriction as far as my district is concerned,” Jackson said. “...I’m not voting to save myself tonight.”

“It’s time for us to go,” Oubre said. “We need to saddle up and get on out.”

Barry Marionneaux and the Rev. Lionel Johnson, who served as chairman and co-chairman of the Home Rule Charter Commission, respectively, spoke in support of repealing term limits at a public hearing before the vote. Marionneaux now works as an attorney for the parish on certain issues.

They said the term-limit provision was one of the stopgaps offered in case the new government did not perform as well as hoped, but both said they were pleased with the outcome.

“We were sailing in uncharted waters here,” Marionneaux said. “We had had the police jury system for 200 years...We needed some escape valves. That was what this provision was.”

“I feel the government has been an initial success – fully,” Johnson said. “I do believe that somehow the purpose for which we designed this [has been served].”

Thomas Dominique Sr., a former parish councilman, spoke against the proposal.

“You have to wait till somebody dies for a young man to run for office,” Dominique said. “The parish spoke in 1997.”

“Marionneaux, you were wrong up here interfering with council business,” Oubre said before the vote.

Voting for the measure were councilmen Warren “T-Notchie” Taylor and Mitchel J. Ourso Sr., both of White Castle; Henry J. “Bucket” Scott Jr. of Bayou Goula; Edwin M. Reeves Jr., Eugene P. Stevens Jr., Terry J. Bradford and Louis “Pete” Kelley Jr., all of Plaquemine; Timothy J. Vallet of Rosedale; Matthew H. “Matt” Jewell of Maringouin, and Wayne M. Roy of St. Gabriel.

Among them, Taylor, Reeves and Stevens would not be able to run for re-election unless voters approve the amendment.

Parish President Ourso has said several members of the council requested him to have the provision drafted, and indicated his neutrality on the measure.

“We’ve got a lot more problems than term limits,” Ourso told the council in his monthly report. “Let the people decide. We just had a hospital close.”

After the meeting, Oubre said the parish president had gotten his way.

“The president has his way to control people,” the councilman said. “You can tell by the vote...Too many of us are afraid of the parish president, of what he might do to us.”

Oubre said he wants to offer propose an amendment to the Home Rule Charter to reduce the number of council members from 13 to nine.

In other action last week, the Parish Council approved the introduction of ordinances to:

-- Authorize Ourso to acquire the land necessary to Extend Enterprise Boulevard from Bayou Road (La. 3066) to Belleview Road (La. 75) at Tenant Road at a cost of $142,384.

-- Authorized the parish president to purchase five acres of land parallel to Rosedale Road as the site of a new, state-funded North Iberville Community Center.

Amend the parish budget to include an estimated $350,000 for a new roof at the Iberville Parish Jail.

-- The council also approved a resolution authorizing Iberville Parish Waterworks District No. 2 to install a pumping station and generator at the public safety complex housing the Eastside’s main fire station and the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Substation on La. 30.

The parish president told the council that his office has put out requests for proposals for a program administrator for $44 million in federal funds earmarked for Iberville Parish for Hurricane Gustav recovery.

“That’s the first step to get the money,” he said.