Parish Council: Who’s in charge, What’s in the budget

NPJ-Parish Council Legal fees.png
Several Parish Council members questioned who holds the power under the Home Rule Charter (HRC) at its meeting May 21. Chris Paige asked Parish President Rick Nowlin to address a recommendation from the DA regarding attorney fees for defenses against two lawsuits (approximately $27,000).

Rodney Bedgood received the letter Friday and gave everyone a copy before the meeting. However, Nowlin said he’d never seen it.

Paige said the HRC states the Parish President may not acquire debt without the Council’s approval.

“Normally debt refers to an obligation other than an ongoing operating expenditure,” said Nowlin. “Certainly the amounts we owe the law firm can be represented as obligations to the Parish. It’s one of those things that’s routinely covered in parish operations under state law and the HRC. Everything I did in this matter was done after consultation with the DA’s Office.”

Assistant DA Shantel Wempren stated the opinion references a budget for legal expenses approved by the Council already.

Paige asked, “When were we supposed to be informed as a Council? Are we not supposed to even know about the monies that are being spent? It (the information on expenditures) comes in a pile (of paperwork) that we have to search it out of. It appears that we know nothing of it until we ask.”

Nowlin said he doesn’t request the Council’s permission for many expenses during the year. The Parish has an operating budget and the Council members are supposed to educate themselves on what it allows Nowlin to do.

“We adopt a budget every year,” said Nowlin. “We don’t come back to the Council on every item to say ‘Can we spend this money?’ We don’t have that type of government. You can’t look at the Home Rule Charter in a vacuum. Sure, it’s our governing document. But you also have to consider relevant state statutes, opinions of the Attorney General and court precedents. Why does this item have to be submitted to the Council for approval if it’s permitted by law and there’s funds in the budget to do it.”

Doug de Graffenried said they shouldn’t get to vote on something like the legal expenses because it falls within the purview of Nowlin’s executive authority.

“When you adopt an operating budget there are places in it that give him discretion to spend money like this,” he said. Bedgood agreed. If it’s in the budget it’s allowable.

Paige tried to claim that they don’t even know it’s in the budget. However, Wempren said the budget is published annually and delivered to the Council over a month before it’s voted on. “You all receive that information. I can certify that it was timely and in compliance with the local government budget act,” she said.

“There’s a lot of things in the budget I don’t understand,” said Bedgood. The Parish Treasurer is available to answer any questions the Council members may have before the meeting so they can understand what they’ll be expected to vote on.

Nowlin said they need to be more upset with the people filing the lawsuit, which is costing the Parish money. The judge dismissed the lawsuit because it had no basis (brought against the Parish by the Natchitoches Voters and Civic League). “That’s what’s upsetting to me,” he said.

Rachal reminded them that the Home Rule Charter doesn’t supersede state law.

Hoover then motioned that they add an item to the agenda to request an opinion from the Attorney General on the matter. Rachal and de Graffenried voted no. However, to amend the agenda the vote has to be unanimous.

Council members vote on the budget, which includes attorney fees. Then some claim they don’t know anything about it. The question was raised, if they receive a copy of the budget to vote on, shouldn’t it be their jobs to read and understand what’s in that budget. Bedgood agreed.

6 thoughts on “Parish Council: Who’s in charge, What’s in the budget

  1. I cant help but feel for Rick. Its hard to get anything done when every item is challenged. I agree with Rick about the budget.

  2. i say there’s trouble here in “Capitol City “,trouble I say……fire the whole bunch and start new,just select random people off the street .

  3. Pretty damnable when an elected official claims that he/she doesn’t know what’s in the budget. Seems to me that said person should be tried and convicted of malfeasance of office since it is there sworn duty to direct and understand just what is going on. What an embarrassment, the people that elect these types of “leaders” should be embarrassed as well. SMH.

  4. If Chris Paige thinks the Home Rule Charter is “the worst thing that’s ever happened” why did he run for office – Time for Chris to do the job he was elected to do and help run our parish

  5. The more you read, or see in person as I have attended a couple of the public meetings, the more the real problems reveal themselves.

    There is no question that both the Parish and the City of Natchitoches have issues. We elect people to positions and expect them to do their jobs and actually “lead.” Much like the Federal level one has to be a member of “the Swamp” to get elected. It takes money and more importantly, it takes connections and influence. It shouldn’t be that way, and doesn’t have to be, but we voters are too influenced by popularity, people we know or have “heard of” and won’t support some unknown person in an election. It’s understandable, it’s about “the devil you know,” and not wanting to give someone new a chance.

    But given what I see out of President Trump at the Federal level, and other examples across the nation, it’s way past time to start voting for candidates who have never held an elected office before. We can start locally with the HRC council and the local School Board. Both are in need of some new blood and fresh ideas.

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