Home Rule Charter vs. Police Jury was the hot button topic at the Parish Council meeting Monday night, May 21.
Residents in support of a Coalition called “We The People 2018” attended the meeting to ask the Council members to approve an agenda item allowing voters to make their own decision on whether they want to remain with the current form of government (Home Rule Charter) or change it back to the Police Jury form of government during the Nov. 6 election.
The item wasn’t passed as Councilmen Doug de Graffenried and Russell Rachal voted against it.
While this caused some outrage among the audience, it’s important to try and understand why they voted against it.
Parish President Rick Nowlin said he appreciates the work the coalition did to get 1,888 signatures. However, he said the petition may be a bit misguided, as he doesn’t think changing the form of government will address what problems there may be in the Home Rule Charter.
The Coalition didn’t get the requisite number of signatures on their petition, so it failed, according to state law.
“It’s not supposed to be easy, otherwise we’d be having petitions and elections every six months to change things,” said Nowlin. “We have elections to elect members to represent their districts and a president to represent the entire parish, and if they don’t do so they have to stand for re-election.”
Nowlin said that part of the parish’s problem is the people (members of the government) who are in open opposition to the Home Rule Charter form of government.
“I’ve reviewed the last 25 years of legislative audits for the Police Jury,” said Nowlin. “I don’t think I could find but two years where there weren’t significant findings in the audit. Findings where the Police Jury violated the public bid law, transferred monies between funds that wasn’t allows, deficits running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and mismanagement of funds. So the good old days weren’t really that good when you look at it.”
Scott Stetson, a Parish resident who commutes down rural roads on a daily basis, said changing an entire form of government because we’re not satisfied with the way it’s running is like trying to reinvent the wheel to regress. A good course of action would be to switch out members of the government that may still be in position from former sessions of the Police Jury (Patsy Ward Hoover, Rodney Bedgood, and Chris Paige). Changing the government itself would have a significant impact on slowing down the infrastructure that residents are already so unhappy with.
“The issue is unfortunately getting good collaboration here (Parish Council) for the common good of the parish,” said Stetson. “I’m averse to changing the form of government because I don’t think it’s gonna help me or my fellow parishioners at all. This is a personality driven issue and we need to get over the issues to address the greater good of the parish.”
What’s interesting is that if the Council were truly following its 3-minute time limit, Bedgood wouldn’t have abruptly cut off Stetson with his gavel before his time had elapsed. Anyone who spoke in favor of putting the form of government to a vote was allowed to speak well over the time limit.
However, Roger Williams was also given the cold shoulder when he questioned the Council members who voted against the Road District 40 tax (Hoover, Bedgood and Paige) in July 2017. The tax was geared toward fixing the deplorable road system in the parish.
Williams was part of a committee formed to study the road conditions. Its conclusion was that the only way the roads could be made better was to have more money. The only way to do this would have been through an ad valorem tax increase, a sales tax, or a combination of both. If the citizens would have been allowed to vote on it, and if they would have approved it, the parish would now be a year down the road towards fixing its roads.
“But the Council in their wisdom would not give the citizens the right to vote on it,” he said. “Consistently, when there’s a proposal made to offer to the citizens of Natchitoches a chance to increase taxes, we have three Councilmen that will not let it get out to a public vote. You don’t get to vote on your roads. The condition of the roads is the responsibility of those three Council members. They have prevented you from making that choice. My question to them is WHY?”
But the three Council members in question had nothing to say to answer Williams’ question and the meeting quickly moved on. Later in the meeting Bedgood said he votes the way the people in his district ask him to vote, which is why he voted no on the proposed Road District 40 tax.
There’s an obvious rift among the Council members that seems to be preventing any progress that could actually help the parish move in the right direction. While Rachal said he wishes the Coalition would spend as much effort as they’re putting into the petition, on helping the Council make the Home Rule Charter work, Paige said he considers it “the worst thing that’s ever happened.”
Other agenda items included:
Reappoint Clint Perot III and Edward Colbert to the Natchitoches Parish Waterworks District No. 1 Board
Reappoint Meryland Robinson to the Natchitoches Parish Planning and Zoning Commission
Reappoint Ernest Self and Winfred Lonadier to the Northwest Louisiana Game and Fish Preserve Commission
Introduce ordinance to reduce speed limit of the Clark Loop Road to 15mph
Adopt ordinance relative to the removal of appointees to board and commissions to require 75% attendance
Adopt the adjusted millage rate or rates
Hold an election in Fire District No. 3 on Nov. 6 to authorize the renewal of a special tax