SADOW: Bossier City Term Limits Resistance Invites Losing War

Amid the manufactured controversy over an expression of the people’s will in Bossier City to impose term limits on their elected officials, several of its city councilors are trying to win a battle that likely will cause them to lose a war where ultimately Republican Mayor Tommy Chandler picks up the win.

Trying to thwart the wishes of the citizens who organized and signed petitions are Republican Councilors Jeff FreeVince Maggio, and David Montgomery, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby. All except Maggio never again could serve as councilors if the proposition installing a three-term limit succeeds. Along with that is a companion that limits the mayor to lifetime three terms as well.

These five voted down a request to add an agenda item to last week’s Council meeting that could have fulfilled one of the two compulsory Council actions in the wake of a successfully certified petition to amend the charter: a vote whether to make such amendments. Chandler sponsored that, but too late to make it on the agenda without a vote.

That his tardiness cost at least a vote on the issue has been subjected to much analysis. It has raised doubts that he truly backs term limits, as that would apply to him. Alternatively, others have suggested that his submission came too late as a result of a hasty effort to have the instrument drawn up by legal counsel outside of the city’s.

The second scenario implies that his own appointee, City Attorney Charles Jacobs, has worked against his own boss in favor of the Council majority. Fueling this impression are statements Jacobs made in public during Council meetings of Jul. 18 and Aug. 1 that contradict each other and known facts, regarding the hiring of outside counsel – using taxpayer dollars – in a deliberate attempt to provide political cover for the Council majority on the issue.

If so, Chandler should use his authority under the charter to fire Jacobs. That he hasn’t suggests either he hasn’t the fortitude to do so, given the controversy and transition costs that would ensue, or the first scenario applies. Regardless, Chandler is trying again with some instrument, well before the deadline, for the next Council meeting regarding term limits.

Yet to be made public, the instrument must be in the form of an ordinance to place on the Nov. 18 statewide general election runoff ballot the propositions to impose the three-term lifetime limit. It would do no good if it were an ordinance to amend term limits into the charter, the first option the charter presents, because that option has gone stale, leaving only the second option of placing the matter on a ballot that, again, the charter requires the Council to perform within 120 days of the petition certification, which occurred Jul. 10.

In dealing with that, consider the Council majority’s strategy and preferences. Its preferred outcome is not to have it on the ballot at all, because all indications are voters would approve of it decisively. That’s a legal long shot, to say the least. The charter language is clear on the subject and even the outside opinion – drafted by an attorney with no expertise in this area of law and who has worked for city officials in the past, at least one of whom is part of the Council majority on this – acknowledges the very high probability that an election occurs ultimately, according to someone familiar with the contents of the opinion that has not been released publicly.

But where the opinion seems to become helpful to the Council majority comes with its members’ next preference: trying to prevent immediate placement of the propositions on the ballot without making it look like this not only is opposition to term limits but also to the rule of law. Indeed, the whole thing and exercise surrounding it was designed precisely to conjure an excuse, no matter how far-fetched, to having to follow the charter.

Apparently, it tries to accomplish this by questioning whether the petition conforms to the language of an ordinance. The ambiguity comes in that in this instance because it’s actually a charter amendment hijacking the ordinance-by-petition process as permitted in the charter where the second option of referendum requires a vote on something in the language of a proposition, not an ordinance. Indeed, the operative section of statute covering this, L.R.S. 18:1299.1, mandates that language in the form of questions comes from the governing authority.

In other words, because the charter dictates that the first option of Council approval of the ordinance in its unaltered language occurs within 30 days of certification, the Council majority conceivably legally could pass on doing that because it claims the language isn’t in the form of an ordinance. But, because the second option also is the method used for a charter amendment, not just an ordinance, the language issue doesn’t have the same salience because the Council simply has to pass an ordinance including the ballot language unaltered (although the Secretary of State may change that language to adhere to legal ballot language requirements).


Still, that organizers didn’t write up an ordinance is an opening for the Council majority to refuse to call for the election on the basis that it doesn’t have a matter at hand complying with the charter that otherwise would force it to do so. Supposedly, the opinion advises that if a refusal results, then a court could be petitioned to order the Council to do so and that likely would succeed. Nevertheless, under this scenario the Council majority would accomplish its goal: delaying the election in a manner where it claims opposition because it doesn’t have a legal obligation to put it on a ballot, or even claim that to do so would result in litigation.

This avoids the nightmare outcome for the Council majority: having to vote up or down on a measure without any legal cover to alter the fact that voting is for or against term limits, because even if it can delay matters legally long enough so that limits wouldn’t apply until after 2025 elections its member would get hammered in their reelection campaigns for a vote explicitly against term limits. Its mouthpiece Jacobs on several occasions has relayed the message that its members will go to court to try to stop it, and apparently using taxpayer dollars all the way.

But the Council majority also must realize that in ultimately taking this course, some and even all of members probably lose their elected careers, if they remain eligible for the 2025 election. First by not allowing onto the Aug. 1 agenda the amendment, then if Chandler’s item calls for a Nov. 18 placement of the amendments on the ballot and they vote that down, and if they manage to drag things out so term limits won’t be in place for 2025 elections, they will get hammered anyway. They would face campaign charges that they twice voted against term limits, and drowned out would be any attempts by them to explain that away as in the first instance it only was to place on an agenda amending term limits into the charter and in the second just placing term limits on a ballot for people to decide but in a way they thought it didn’t legally apply.

This is why they didn’t want to add Chandler’s item, because then subsequently voting the item down, even if trotting out the explanation they voted against as they allegedly didn’t have the legal authority to amend the charter with it, would have replaced the agenda vote with an even stronger confirmation that could be used against them. If you’re explaining, you’re losing, and those votes require way too much explaining for all but the most sophisticated voter to believe anything but they were incumbents detached from the people trying every trick in the book to keep themselves clinging to power by shielding themselves from the popular will on the issue.

That’s why Chandler’s ordinance, even if unsuccessful, is consequential. If it doesn’t take a step in eventually getting term limits in place prior to 2025, it does provide more fuel to defeat Darby, Free, Montgomery, and Williams in that election – and potentially make Maggio the biggest loser of all, who if he got on the right side of the issue at least might find he could have stayed three terms in office instead of increasing significantly the chance voters bounce him after one for opposing term limits.

Or his opposition reduces the chances of him having a shot at defeating Chandler, should Maggio choose to run for mayor instead. Because politically Chandler’s stock skyrockets the more he stumps for term limits in consequential ways. His backing this ordinance, even if defeated, bolsters belief that he genuinely wants this. And if after the defeat he launches legal efforts to get the propositions on the ballot, that magnifies the impression, all to his electoral benefit.

Maybe the Council majority uses its voting muscle and the judiciary to push the term limits propositions off the Nov. 18 ballot. Maybe it pushes these all the way into 2025. But in doing so, it creates an increasingly unfavorable perception of its members that could be exploited in 2025 elections, and if it’s Chandler at the forefront, their loss becomes his gain.



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