SADOW: Bossier City Term Limits Edging Closer to Reality

The high-stakes game of poker goes on between citizens rebellious to the Bossier City political establishment and those insiders who will fight by any means necessary to suppress any threat to their power, which may include a tactical retreat on term limits that, once again, is consumed by lawfare?

That may be at issue after the latest meeting of the city’s Charter Review Commission, which over the past four months has plowed through proposed charter changes. Upon releasing a final product, the charter dictates that the City Council must accept it and schedule for an election. The earliest possible date for citizen approval would be for the Dec. 7 general election runoff, which means if approved changes would go into effect prior to 2025 city elections.

The whole rationale for commission formation came as a result of a near-miss for the establishment on the issue of term limits. A petition amending the charter to include a three-term retroactive limit for all elected officials gained enough signatures to land it on the ballot last year, but a City Council majority – comprised of Republicans David Montgomery and Jeff Free, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby, all of whom would have become ineligible to run, plus GOP rookie Vince Maggio – a few times voted to violate the Charter by not scheduling the vote of a certified petition, and then went to court to knock out the petition through a legal technicality about its format.

That provided the impetus for the Commission, as a means to take the air out of a relaunched petition drive. The majority had the ability to appoint a one-vote majority to the Commission, as they could appoint a member each while term limits supporters Republicans Mayor Tommy Chandler and GOP Councilors Chris Smith and Brian Hammons could appoint four altogether. This led to a number of potential scenarios: ignore the issue entirely and hope the limits momentum dissipated because of the possibility the Commission could address the issue; put in a much weaker version such as no retroactivity to steal petitioners’ thunder; or put in something like the petitioners’ desire but then insert a poison pill provision of some kind (such as in the 4/17/2004 proposed revision that included a mandatory water rate hike that voters rejected 93-7).

An early indication that the Commission might avoid the poison pill strategy came at a meeting in late March, when because of absences of Montgomery’s appointee Republican Police Juror Julianna Parks and Darby’s appointee Panderina Soumas, Chandler appointee Shane Cheatham moved to include language reflecting the petition. It was defeated 4-3 only because the other Chandler appointee Lee Jeter voted against it, with him explaining that he wanted a more comprehensive vetting of the Charter prior to committing to inclusion of term limits.

That episode signaled that, by his rhetoric, Jeter remained open to the idea, and that if two or more establishment appointees missed a meeting where the agenda noted potential discussion about the areas of the charter that would be impacted by limits, the matter could return and be passed. The Commission’s rules are such that if a matter is accepted into the recommendations, it cannot be reconsidered.

This week, the Commission met yet again, but with a different correlation of forces. In the previous three meetings, which all had absences, establishment appointees outnumbered reformist appointees; however, at this one Soumas (who has been absent frequently) and Free appointee Lisa Wilhite didn’t make it, leaving appointees of Chandler, Smith, and Hammons in the majority.

Another dynamic was different. A couple of days before information had been made public by leaders of the petition drive that, after a hiatus, they had resumed walking.

Once again presuming numbers, Cheatham brought up the petition’s language as a recommendation. It received spoken opposition from Maggio appointee Vicky Whitman, whose husband Jim is city marshal, and Parks, whose husband Santi is city judge. Both offices historically, with almost no exceptions, have been held for extended periods by officials reelected time and time again, an arrangement that would end if term limits first gain a foothold for mayor and councilor positions then voters extended it to all city offices.

While Whitman’s remarks were brief, Parks – whose elected position also has no limits but is a situation petition backers also want to change – indulged in a rambling ten-minute screed including at least one outright falsehood (that she had attended all meetings), chock full of non sequiturs and featuring an impaired ability to reason that, if it apparently didn’t affect the final outcome, certainly would cause future voters who care about analytical skill in their elected officials to shy away from her candidacy, if not outright discourage potential clients from ever employing her as an advocate in court. In particular, she consistently confused the issue by going back and forth from arguing against the concept of term limits when the actual issue at hand was whether to allow citizens to vote on term limits as part of charter changes, but then alleging instead the issue was about some unidentified elected official, presumably her patron Montgomery.

Regardless, this time Jeter, perhaps satisfied of the entirety of the review process with only one more meeting scheduled for next week, voted for the language, thus sending it to the ballot at some point the verbiage of the petition – the last thing the establishment presumably wanted. Or ….

… consider that the establishment and its appointees knew the issue could be brought up at this meeting and Jeter could be flipped. And that they knew the petition-gathering had resumed (in fact, it had been going on for some time prior to any public announcement, information which may have come to the attention of the establishment). If so, the temporary reformist majority on Jun. 10 may have been allowed to form to let the item through with the intent of trying to vent the steam from the term limits drive, and then finding a way to sabotage whatever product comes from the Commission.

A poison pill might do the trick, but since successful placement of that would become known relatively soon, that might at best provide a very short-term halt to the petition drive – which has another couple of items attached to it that the establishment also wouldn’t like. More likely to work as a tactic would be to send the charter replacement all the way to the ballot box, with the petition’s term limits language, and then tie it up in court.

Already the entire Commission exercise has a design flaw: it has not acted legally either by the Charter or state law in proffering a replacement of the Charter rather than its emendation. Establishment allies easily could get a state court to nullify the ballot placement, or even the election result if positive, and certainly long enough for 2025 elections not to be affected by term limits.

Yet the problem with that as a move is it presupposes insertion of petition language deflating the petition drive itself. Leaders of that announced after the Commission action that it in no way would halt their efforts, with the goal of having the three amendments on the Dec. 7 ballot, side-by-side with (technically, by the item’s wording) a new charter encapsulating the petition term limits language. Only one has to pass, and four existing city councilors are off the ballot for Council positions for 2025.

That is the worst nightmare of the establishment, and, as long as the petition gun isn’t unloaded and the rebels keep their feet on the gas in gathering signatures, there’s a very high chance that will happen.



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