Documenter name: Natalie McLendon, recorded by Sheila Broussard

Agency holding meeting: City of Sulphur Home Rule Charter Commission

Date: December 13, 2022 5:30 PM

Summary

The newly appointed Home Rule Charter Commission set next meeting dates and debated whether to allow public input outside of meetings.

The Scene

The first public meeting of the City of Sulphur Home Rule Charter Commission was held at 1551 East Napoleon Street in Sulphur, in a portable building. A few members of the public were present as well as KPLC.

Goals

The Home Rule Charter was originally passed by the citizens of Sulphur in 1984, according to Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahey. The members of this commission were appointed at the November city council meeting to update the Home Rule Charter to coincide with current Louisiana law. The newly appointed members are Danny Dipetta, Donna Emmons, Gena Granger, Carla Sigler, Sid Rosteet, and Becky Venissat. The commission is subject to open meetings law and will report their advised revisions to Sulphur City Council. “The council will then place the proposed changes on an election ballot for the citizens of Sulphur to vote upon,” Danahey said. 

Community Perspective

Concerned Sulphur resident Sheila Broussard says she hopes that the commission knows what the public wants while working through their revisions. Broussard believes some items could be worded to provide greater resident trust in these public proceedings. Broussard said not taking public comment outside of meetings may be too limiting. The commission discussed that a public facing email address for commission comment submissions may solve that issue, but said they will wait until the next meeting to decide on this.

The Debate

The commission debated on whether a public comment email would be too cumbersome to maintain. Commissioner Sigler says public comment can be made at each of the meetings and that should be sufficient. One commissioner questioned how many residents in the city of Sulphur were even aware that there was a Home Rule Charter Commission or if it was all being done for two people who wanted changes. 

Broussard commented that there was no way to currently contact the commission. Commissioner Dipetta states that Broussard can contact them during the meetings. Broussard responded that this is limiting communication with the public. Dipetta answered that they will take that up at the next meeting and that Broussard should have made a comment while they were discussing that issue because she had the opportunity then and there and she didn’t. Dipetta said Broussard can make her additional comment at the next meeting.

Policies

City Attorney Cade Cole sent members of the council the statutory provisions governing the Home Rule Charter Commission process as well as the Legislative Auditor Guide to Home Rule Charters via email. He also included some possible dates around future meetings to discuss which of those dates will work. The Commission has 18 months to work. Cole states that if the commission wants to make the gubernatorial primary, they will need to be through with their work by the end of March 2023, because the deadline to get the appropriate state approvals to have something on the ballot is in April 2023. It would have to be done by the City Council meeting on April 10, 2023. If the commission needs more time, the proposed changes would go on a subsequent ballot. There will be another window in July to make the November runoff, or the spring of 2024.

The Louisiana Constitution gives the commission the power to fill its own vacancies. The first act of business in the January meeting will be to appoint an additional member to the commission after the unfortunate passing of Dennis Bergeron, who was previously appointed along with the other members.

Cole advised the commission to think of the charter like a constitution, and there were two ways to do that, either like the U.S. constitution or the Louisiana constitution. Cole noted that many have criticized the Louisiana Constitution over the years “for having too much detail and trying to micromanage the affairs of the state, not providing flexibility. That’s why we always have to amend it so often.” He also stressed that the commission has total freedom to make modifications wherever they feel is necessary because this is the first review of the charter in 40 years, and therefore there is a lot of room for modernization. Cole states that there is a rule in the charter which states that a former council member must wait one year before contracting the city, while the state law says they must wait two years. The commission will be reviewing home rule charters of the surrounding cities. 

The commissioners passed a motion stating that they will not accept individual comments, concerns, and suggestions from members of the public outside of the commission meeting times. Commissioner Sigler made the original motion, stating that it “would be inappropriate.”

There will be time for comment during each agenda item, as well as a comment period at the end of each meeting, which will be limited to three minutes per person. 

The commission will work through articles 1, 2, and 3 of the charter at the January 10 meeting.

Outcomes

City Attorney Cole proposed the following tentative dates for subsequent meetings:

  • January 10 (Proposed by the commission)
  • January 23 (Fourth Monday in January)
  • February 16 (Third Thursday), Public input session
  • March 16 (Third Thursday), Working session
  • March 27 (Fourth Monday), Follow Up working session
  • Additional special meetings would be scheduled on an as-needed basis

All commissioners were sworn in simultaneously.

Danny Dipetta was elected as Chairman of the Commission. Arlene Blanchard was elected as Secretary.

Links

The agenda for this meeting can be accessed here.

Follow-up questions

Will the commission allow the public to contact them outside of meetings?

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