SADOW: Bosser City Term Limits Subject to Last Ditch Power Play

The empire will try to strike back at the upcoming Bossier City Charter Review Commission meeting, aided by questionable collusion, but potentially failing to bear fruit depending upon who shows up and perhaps what courts of law may have to say in the future.

Of course, the issue in question is term limits, which at the Commission’s last meeting were voted in favor to forward for citizen approval as part of the entire package, three terms and retroactive in nature starting at the end of this year in advance of next year’s city elections. It passed 4-3 with two absences, one of whom by past rhetoric seemed likely to vote against it.

The Commission generally has been debating changes, classifying them as consensus or not, with the intent of bringing the latter to a vote at this, the final meeting. But at the previous one, term limits was moved and approved already, to the chagrin of the political establishment whose membership comprises the four city councilors – Republicans David Montgomery and Jeff Free, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby – who could not run for reelection with these limits in place, plus rookie GOP Councilor Vince Maggio. Lights began burning late at night at City Hall to come up with a countermove to prevent the measure from going to a vote of the people, utilizing the appointees of these five who make for a majority of the Commission.

At least four of these appointees have to varying degrees a vested interest in carrying water for the establishment. Montgomery appointed Julianna Parks, a Republican police juror and wife of Republican City Judge Santi Parks, both of whom might have term limits applied to them if the current effort is successful and city and parish citizens wish to extend that. Maggio appointed Vicky Whitman, wife of GOP City Marshal Jim Whitman, who also could face term limits in the future if its momentum isn’t stopped.

Williams appointed Sandra Morehart, the wife of Travis Morehart whose firm receives contracts from Santi Parks and Jim Whitman to conduct annual state audits of their agencies, as well as the Police Jury. And Free appointed Lisa Wilhite, who is the wife of Timothy Wilhite, the registered agent and secretary/treasurer of Wilhite Electric, a firm which in the past has received contracts approved by the City Council.

The rules under which the Commission operates are critical to understanding whether the previous favorable decision about retroactive three-term limits can stand. At its inaugural meeting the Commission resolved to use Robert’s Rules (derived from Mason’s Manual, commonly used by plenary bodies in government), which has options of reconsideration and rescinding a previous action that the Commission to date has not explicitly acknowledged it has the power to invoke.

Reconsideration won’t work, because that requires a member of the winning side to request that. Rescinding doesn’t depend upon that, but does require some tricky navigating. A motion to rescind with prior notice, such as agenda placement, takes a simple majority of those present, but without notice it would require a two-thirds supermajority or a majority of the seated membership.

In essence, in the context of the meeting, it means this: if the establishment appointees could arrange for “notice of the motion … in the call [agenda] for this meeting,” either by obtaining a simple majority of those present or, better, all five of its appointees including Darby’s Panderina Soumas to show up and vote for rescinding, they succeed. But without that, they would require more than five votes; even if a member of the reformist side – appointees of Republicans Councilors Chris Smith and Brian Hammons and Mayor Tommy Chandler – was absent, the necessary proportion wouldn’t be reached with all five.

Originally, the agenda didn’t have an item referring to term limits, a source with knowledge of the matter indicated and who had seen documentation relating to it. This is because Smith appointee Preston Friedley, the chairman, didn’t include it in a forwarded agenda to ex-oficio member Assistant City Attorney Richard Ray as it had been a matter decided previously. Instead, Ray disregarded that and published as the agenda one forwarded by Morehart, the secretary, which under the old business topic includes the verbiage “i. Term limits for Mayor and council 1, 3, 7, 12, 13, 16, 33, 35, 37, 40” – formatted differently than items a. through h. and any others under new business. Under Robert’s Rules, the “secretary should, previous to each meeting, for the use of the chairman, make out an order of business.”

This course of events produces two salient questions. First, while the secretary had the right to compile a proposed agenda, the president disputed its contents. Second, whether item i. as worded in its very general and vague fashion is a motion for the purposes of deciding whether it appeared validly on the agenda as a “motion.” Robert’s defines a motion as “a proposal that the assembly take certain action, or that it express itself as holding certain views.” The wording of the agenda item is questionable in meeting this criterion.

Let’s suppose that Soumas, who has missed the majority of meetings, does so again and a reformer does so as well, giving establishment candidates a 4-3 advantage. If that were the case, whether a review of term limits as the agenda describes is a motion is crucial, because if it does, assuming voting holds as previous it would be rescinded, but if it doesn’t, it couldn’t be.

In that latter case, Friedley as chairman could declare that a two-thirds vote be required (or even in the instance all establishment appointees show up and a reformer doesn’t) and the rescinding would fail. Robert’s allows for appealing the ruling of a chairman, which a majority could do to overrule him on such a requirement, but then whatever happens can become subject to litigation where if the vote wasn’t a supermajority and the judiciary ultimately decides a motion hadn’t made it on to the agenda, then it would invalidate the rescinding. But for this to matter at the ballot box it would have to be a quick decision, exhausting all appeals, by the judiciary; otherwise, the establishment wins by delaying a charter change with term limits from enaction prior to city elections.

The only way the establishment is safe is if all five of its appointees show up and vote its party line. Otherwise, the exercise threatens to lapse into legalese unless absences are such that reform appointees are at equal strength, where they could win.

As things turned out, events transpired anticlimactically. None of the establishment employees showed up. As things stand, the effort stands in abeyance, with some measures passed (and therefore subject to rescinding), others up for debate, but none officially forwarded. Whether that will happen given scheduling constraints — the Commission has indicated the time schedule is too tight to hold another meeting — is anybody’s guess, but if nothing happens, term limits as part of a new charter won’t happen.

Because yet another display of the establishment’s naked power, even illegitimate use of it, to thwart the popular will (why else does it fight so hard to keep term limits off any ballot to the point of tanking a meeting, if not months of work) only adds fuel to the fire of ongoing petitioning to place an amendment on the same Dec. 7 ballot as any charter change. Maybe the empire wins this battle, but how it does could aid in its losing the ultimate war.



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