Search This Blog


Uncertain legality threatens BC charter review

Legally impaired from the start, Bossier City’s Charter Review Commission finds itself hurtling towards a politicized and suspect outcome that may cost taxpayers dearly.

The panel was born of the desires of four Bossier City councilor graybeards – Republicans David Montgomery and Jeff Free, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby – plus their lapdog newcomer Republican Vince Maggio to scuttle term limits, as a reaction to a successful petition drive to impose retroactive three-term limits on city elected officials. It ran afoul of a legal technicality, so organizers are out there again with another attempt plus another couple of measures upon which they report they are making steady progress in signature collection.

However, while possible it’s not probable that enough signatures will have been collected and certified to meet a Jun. 19 deadline to have the measures appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. The timing is important, not only because if the petitioners are too slow – even as it appears almost certain they will have enough signatures to make the Dec. 7 ballot, which is due Oct. 14 – then next years’ city elections won’t have limits in place.

If not making the deadlines, that will elicit a sigh of relief from the graybeards as the term limits measure almost certainly would succeed at the ballot box and thereby disqualify them from any more time in office, as they have served anywhere from three to seven terms. But as it appears petitioners will be on time to try to cancel their 2025 electoral participation, they also need a strategy to try to head off limits in that eventuality.

The Council majority bloc of the graybeards plus Maggio – who, even if it never may apply to him, recently in no uncertain terms declared opposition to term limits – thus wants to have a new charter, as indicated by a joint list the Council forwarded to the Commission, up for at least the November vote to beat the amendments to the punch. This could obviate, if not moot, the petitioners even if successfully gaining enough signatures.

But the charter doesn’t allow for that. Instead, it makes very clear that amendments are to occur singly. The section dealing with charter changes makes that immensely clear (emphases mine):

Sec. 21-03: Each amendment, however proposed, may include more than one section of the Charter, provided that it relates to a single subject that must be clearly expressed in the title. Each section amended shall be set forth in full as it will stand after the proposed amendment. There shall be appended to the proposed amendment a statement of its nature not to exceed one hundred and fifty (150) words.

Sec. 21-04: The City Council shall submit any amendment or amendments as recommended by the Charter Review Commission to the electors of the City…. Any number of proposed amendments to this Charter may be submitted at any such general municipal election.

Sec. 21-06: The ballot used at such elections shall contain these words: "For the charter amendment" (stating the title thereof and the nature of the proposed amendment as appended to the same); "Against the charter amendment" (stating the title thereof and the nature of the proposed amendment as appended to the same).

Sec. 21-07: If a majority of the votes cast on any proposed amendment….

That’s it. Nothing in the charter mandates that the electorate take one up-or-down vote en globo on the entire lot. Indeed, the charter seems to dictate separate consideration for each and every one and does not authorize a vote to “replace” the charter, but only to amend parts of the existing one.

So, to get around that, the graybeards+ have to resort to state law. Shilling for them, as he has consistently on other issues, Assistant City Attorney Richard Ray has told the Commission that their efforts should focus on charter replacement, which was pursued the two times previously the city has gone through the process. State statute makes this possible as well as amending, but Ray has treated both the charter’s language and statute on amending as if they didn’t exist.

Thus, the very ordinance establishing the panel, Ordinance 154 of 2023 passed on Dec. 5, didn’t follow the charter. Sec. 21-01 reads “Amendments to the charter may be proposed as follows: (a) By the City Council in the form of an ordinance, except that it shall not be subject to veto, embodying the proposed amendment … (emphasis added). No such language appears in the ordinance, with it only rendering a general statement that the Council “does hereby authorize appointment of a Charter Review Commission for the purpose of proposing changes to the Charter.” The clear statement that amendments are discrete in nature and should have been stated then and there eliminates the chance that the Commission can follow charter guidelines throughout the process.

Note as well that by saying the Commission was in the business of “proposing changes to the Charter,” that removes use of the Commission as permitted by state law to replace the charter, because it was not empowered to do so. Thus, the ordinance is defective in two ways: it does not legally follow the charter, thus removing the possibility of the Commission to amend the charter through the process outlined in the charter; and, by not stating the Commission is to replace the charter, it cannot use statute as a vehicle to replace it. The only option thus left is by amendment through statute, which merely states that a commission must be employed (and sets out parameters for it that are mirrored in the charter) and amendments be approved by a majority of the electorate, as stated in the Constitution.

If the Commission continues on a course to replace the charter, whatever end product rests on very shaky legal ground. Ironically, when faced with a similar situation regarding the initial term limits petition where it appeared the process didn’t explicitly follow state law, the graybeards+ through Ray and City Attorney Charles Jacobs (currently on medical leave) spared no effort or expense – outside counsel advice followed by legal actions – to try to cut it off at the pass, and eventually succeeded in court. Yet with this situation of a discrepancy between process followed and the law, nothing has been done by the city to investigate whether it’s about to waste a whole lot of time and money on something legally impaired from the very start.

Of course, that’s because the graybeards+ want that outcome of replacement, regardless of its legal dubiousness. That’s as by a theory floated by Ray that any of the three amendments being petitioned would apply only to the existing charter, so if on the same ballot these and a new charter passed they all would be mooted out of existence. That thinking itself seems as dubious, since the language of the propositions doesn’t tie them to any particular charter and the term limits one, the death of which lies behind the whole effort, slots into the proposed new charter seamlessly.

Still, the strategy is there for all to see – present a new document to voters at or before the amendments appear on the ballot and hope it passes that then casts aside the amendments even if these pass voter muster also. That it could lead to years of expensive litigation troubles them not at all; after all, it’s not their money they would be wasting which the graybeards have an extensive history of doing and they need to defeat limits to keep power to fulfill whatever cravings they have, such as Montgomery’s ability to surpass the $3 million mark in taxpayer dollars shoveled his way.

The wisest course would be to have the Commission stick with a few discrete amendments rather than bring legal wrath to the city by attempting charter replacement. If a majority of its members really want to opt for replacement, at the very least it needs to slow down – it meets next later this week – and make sure expert outside legal counsel gives a satisfactory review of the process to date, if not have the city request an attorney general’s opinion about that. We can hope prudence, rather than nakedly political ambitions, takes precedence on this matter.

No comments: