Charter author objects to Council actions

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By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com or 318-352-3618 ext 219

The question of whether the Mayor’s office must advertise for the position of City attorney and if the City Council must approve the Mayor’s choice of a City attorney has prompted comments from one of the authors of the City of Natchitoches Home Rule Charter. Political activist Robert Jackson is a former City councilman and was on the charter commission that developed the City’s Home Rule Charter document in 1975. “I want the Mayor to take leadership and straighten this thing up,” Jackson says.

At the City Council meeting Sept. 14, there was a 3-2 vote to defeat a resolution naming Alex Washington the City attorney. The prevailing argument was offered by Councilman Eddie Harrington who said the current City attorney, Ronald Corkern, could not be replaced without just cause according to the personnel handbook. That’s where Jackson’s objections begin. Jackson believes the City Council should call a special meeting and rescind the vote on the resolution. Jackson believes that the personnel handbook was adopted only for employees, not department heads.

The Home Rule Charter is the governing document, or constitution for the City. Jackson said he authored the ordinance that established the personnel handbook for one main reason. At the time, the City administration was hand-picking the employees and required no advertising of vacancies. The vacancies were not even listed for City employees to read. “We were not an equal opportunity employer,” Jackson says. “It did not speak to race but was for all citizens and required that vacant positions be advertised for everyone to see. This is not the case with the City attorney, a department head, who serves at the pleasure of the mayor.” Jackson believes that the mayor’s powers are spelled out in the charter, not the handbook. “The charter will always supersede the handbook,” Jackson says.

Further strengthening his argument, He quotes the charter, Article III, Executive Authority, Section 3.01. “The mayor shall be the chief executive officer of the City and shall exercise general executive and administrative authority over all departments, offices and agencies of the City, except as otherwise provided by this charter.” Jackson says that Section 2.05, Part B, Page 4 states, “Except as provided elsewhere in this charter, neither the council nor any of its members shall involve themselves in any manner in the appointment, removal, direction or supervision of any City Administrative officer or employee.”

Also important is who takes over in the event the mayor is temporarily out of town. In past administrations, the councilman-at-large was that person. But the charter states that, “During the temporary absence of the mayor from the City, the mayor, by letter filed with the clerk of the council shall designate a qualified officer or employee in the executive branch as acting mayor. Whenever the temporary absence exceeds 10 days, the mayor pro tempore shall serve as acting mayor.”

Jackson says that when the charter was written, it was done so to favor a strong mayor rather than a strong council. Once it was finished, it was put before the voters to say yes or no. They said yes and it became a reality for the City. “Once the voters said yes, it can only be changed by another vote of the people.” He believes the council’s action to vote down the resolution naming Washington City attorney violated the charter and a special meeting should be called to correct what he believes is a mistake.

According to the charter, the only two requirements for the City attorney are that he or she be licensed in Louisiana with at least five years experience. Harrington’s argument is that the charter states, in Section 3.08 that the mayor must have “just cause” to remove employees or appointed administrative officers and that Mayor Ronnie Williams has shown no just cause for removing Corkern.