SADOW: Bossier City Establishment Ready to Chuck New Charter

Months of work on potential Bossier City Charter changes circle the drain, an apparent victim of a feature, not a bug, of the process shaped by City Council graybeards and their allies.

This week, the city’s Charter Review Commission attempted to meet for one last time to complete votes for changes and to pass an enabling motion sending the whole package to the Council. That officially would compel the Council to place the changes, shaped as a replacement (despite the questionable legality of that) of the document, on the Dec. 7 ballot.

At its previous meeting, taking advantage of a couple of absences among the five appointees of city councilors against term limits – Republicans David Montgomery, Jeff Free, and Vince Maggio, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby, the only votes originally in favor of establishing the Commission – the four other appointees added into the package of consensus and voted-upon approvals a retroactive three-term limit for the mayor and councilors. With eventual voter approval, all but Maggio would be ineligible to run in next year’s city elections as a result.

This led to some behind-the-scenes maneuvering where Commission Chairman Preston Friedley, appointed by strict term limits-friendly GOP Councilor Chris Smith, offered an agenda for this week’s meeting that didn’t include items already approved, but which elicited a rival agenda that did include these items from Secretary Sandra Morehart, appointee of Williams. Assistant City Attorney Richard Ray accepted Morehart’s version and had that posted as official.

Ray’s choice wasn’t inconsistent with the framework under which the Commission did business, Robert’s Rules of Order, which assigns the chairman the duty of administering the agenda in committee action and the secretary of formulating one. But it did vary with the past practice of the panel, that had featured a more collaborative process with the chairman making the decisive input into agenda formulation.

At the same time, if followed to the letter Robert’s largely mooted the presence of already-approved items on the agenda if the intent were to relitigate these. To undo a previous vote, the Commission would have to attempt to reconsider or rescind. The former would be impossible without a member of the winning side of the vote in question from requesting, while the latter was possible by a simple majority of those present, but only if specific notice of that were given in the agenda. The version promulgated by Ray didn’t appear to have such specificity, which then meant essentially all five establishment appointees had to attend and vote for a rescinding. Even the absence of a reform appointee – and one, mayoral appointee Shane Cheatham, had given notice that job-related duties would prevent his attendance at the morning session – didn’t change that calculus.

The meeting time arrived, and only Friedley and the two other reform appointees committed to attend ended up joining him; all five establishment appointees didn’t deign to show and appeared to have given no excuses or advance warnings. Analyzing this massive truancy through the lens of the dynamics of the agenda imbroglio, if the establishment could not ensure that all five of its faction could attend, it could not make successfully the rescinding attempt. Rather than then supplying enough attendance to meet the quorum requirement that would allow for a final package vote that included the strict term limits item, enough absences would prevent that and thereby keep that item, as well as all other changes, from going to the ballot box.

Because no quorum existed, while no meeting took place plenty of farce did. The gathering immediately devolved into an exercise of accusation-hurling mainly involving Friedley and Ray over the handling of the dueling agendas with each calling the other a fibber. The various interpretations offered over the next half-hour often turned on degrees rather than magnitudes; for example, Ray claimed Friedley made demands for acceptance of his agenda but the relevant e-mail message (obtained by Bossier Watch) seemed rather mild in comparison to that hyperbole.

However, in the exchange it became apparent Ray’s characterization of events surrounding specifically the dueling agendas and more broadly Commission activity contained inconsistencies. For example, at the outset Ray asserted he was serving voluntarily in the ex oficio capacity required by the charter (technically the city attorney is to do this, but Ray for months has served as the acting city attorney in the absence of Charles Jacobs out on medical leave), but recordings of the first Commission meeting revealed him stating he was being paid a salary to perform that duty.

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Ray was upset about media accounts featuring critical remarks made by Friedley, and media outlets present at the gathering could provide a forum to contest those expressions. After a half-hour of bickering, Friedley went through the formal process of trying to convene the meeting, discovering the obvious of no quorum present, and announced they hoped to reconvene at the time and place, Jun. 20, that would have served as the symbolic handoff to the Council of the package. (And the kerfuffle continued afterwards. A recording made by SoBo Live captured spoken acrimony between the two.)

That meeting wouldn’t happen, either. A majority of members conveyed they would not attend and gave various reasons for that, which didn’t reveal whether this was another coordinated tanking strategy by the establishment appointees – realizing there might be an absence that again would moot any effort to rescind (Darby appointee Panderina Soumas has missed most meetings) – or for the simpler reason that this time was somewhat last-minute and originally not a formal meeting where individual item decisions would be made and so member calendars didn’t include openings for it. Another effort is in the works to attempt a Jun. 24 meeting, but realities of making deadlines for the ballot placement, if not the possibility of executing a rescinding strategy for the majority, may scuttle this as well.

The events of the past week illuminate in bold relief the reason why the four Council graybeards plus Maggio voted the Commission into existence in the first place: as a vehicle to try to derail the strict term limits amendment currently in the package as well as on a circulating petition to reach the ballot. Plainly, as these recent actions reveal, the Commission would serve as a distraction and disincentive from that petition signature gathering, if not as a decoy either to put a weak term limits version into play that wouldn’t affect 2025 elections or ally it with a poison pill to have the citizenry vote down the entire thing.

But the fact that reformers managed to hijack, if briefly, the effort and put the strict version into the package meant the Commission no longer is of any use to the establishment; indeed, it’s now a threat and has to be neutralized. If this means, as long as there’s no path to rescinding the strict version, taking its ball away and going home, that’s exactly what will happen and months of work and an unknown amount of tax dollars spent in the process goes into the ash heap.

Yet the irony is that these transparent shenanigans only embolden the forces behind the petition and strengthens their ability to succeed through the ensuing publicity. If the establishment manages to derail strict term limits by charter revision through such naked power plays, it will have managed to make placement of a strict term limits charter amendment on the ballot all the more likely.

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