Parish Council authorized to select Registrar of Voters

124

By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

An opinion from the La. Attorney General says that Parish Council members, not the Parish President, have the authority to name a registrar of voters and Assistant District Attorney Steven Mansour said the process should begin anew.

At the Parish Council meeting Monday, Mansour presented the opinion he requested from the La. Attorney General’s Office. The steps for choosing a registrar of voters are provided for in the Louisiana Constitution. Mansour said that while the Parish president is not prohibited from participating in the selection, the choice is that of the Parish Council. He also said the Council must determine what process to use in selecting the registrar.

Mansour said he believed the council should start the process over by advertising the position, accepting applications and conducting new interviews. The interviews must be conducted in open session although the council can convene into executive session to discuss applicants. Four of the five council members must vote to go into executive session. Council chair Rodney Bedgood appointed Pat Ward-Hoover, Russell Rachal and Council Clerk Sheryl Frederick to the interview committee that will narrow the applicants to three names to be recommended to the Council.

The Council will then make the final selection. Human Resources Coordinator Cathy Creamer will develop the advertisement for the legal journal, The Natchitoches Times, with Mansour recommending that the ad also be placed on the Parish Government website. Specifications for the ad were contained in the opinion. Council member Doug deGraffenreid suggested that the council notify original applicants of the new process with those applicants allowed to retrieve information from their original applications such as letters of recommendation.

Nowlin asked the council to wait until after the March 30 election to make a decision. The selection of a registrar has been delayed since December when members of the council clashed with Parish President Rick Nowlin over who has the authority to choose the registrar. While 21 people applied for the job, a committee of Nowlin, Creamer, Frederick and businessman David Guillet narrowed the finalists to nine people. Not every committee member interviewed all 21 applicants. While Nowlin said he would present the names of three people to the council, at the December meeting he presented only one name recommended by the committee, that of Lynda Vance who is a Parish Government employee.

The vote to confirm Vance failed.

The controversy was whether Nowlin or the Parish Council had the authority to appoint the registrar. Nowlin argued that he had that authority as stated in the Home Rule Charter. Pat Ward-Hoover was adamant that the council had no input and was critical of Nowlin for presenting only Vance’s name. She was also critical of having people who worked with Vance on the selection committee. After the vote to confirm Vance failed, it was decided to seek an opinion from the La. Attorney General.

Several statements in the opinion were noteworthy.

• “According to the (Home Rule) charter, the legislative powers of the parish government are vested in the council; the president is the chief executive officer of the parish government and he exercises general executive authority and administrative authority over all departments, offices and agencies of the parish government.”

• “The governing authority of each parish shall appoint a registrar of voters in the manner provided by law. (La.Cont. Art. XI, 5)

• “Specifically, the question presented is whether the Parish President has a right to be involved in the appointment of the registrar of voters. As you can see by the language quoted above, Louisiana Constitution article XI and both La. RS 18:51 and La. RS 18:51.1 explicitly state that the parish’s “governing authority” appoints the registrar of voters…In Natchitoches Parish, the legislative functions of parish government are performed by the Parish Council. Therefore, the Parish Council is the governing authority responsible for appointing the registrar of voters.

• “We recognize that the Parish President has the authority to veto ordinances passed by the Natchitoches Parish Council. If the governing authority appoints the registrar by ordinance, which is permissible, the appointment would be subject to veto by the Parish President. However, La RS 18:51 does not require an ordinance to appoint a registrar…Further, a “resolution shall not be subject to the veto authority of the president…”

• “We understand that the chief deputy registrar for Natchitoches Parish is currently performing the duties of registrar…the chief deputy continues to perform the duties of the registrar until the Parish Council appoints a new registrar of voters.”