Documenter name: Natalie McLendon

Agency holding meeting: City of Sulphur Home Rule Charter Commission

Date: January 10, 2023

Summary

For nearly two hours, the commission worked through multiple articles of the charter, continued to debate the best form of public input outside of meetings, and swore in a new member.

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 Rita Lebleu from the American Press. Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahey was present, but as a spectator. City Attorney Cade Cole was also present. The meeting came to order at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Goals 

The Home Rule Charter was originally passed by the citizens of Sulphur in 1984, according to 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 members are Danny Dipetta, Donna Emmons, Gena Granger (not present for this meeting as she was out of state), Sid Rosteet, Carla Sigler, Justin Sittig, 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.

Policies

The minutes from the previous meeting were approved. The agenda was approved without any changes. The Home Rule Charter can be accessed here. Proposed changes are available here.

Cole indicated that they needed to appoint Justin Sittig as a commissioner, and this was done unanimously. Newly appointed Commissioner Sittig was then sworn in. Sittig previously served as the City Clerk of Vinton and is currently a teacher at St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles. 

Proposed changes to the charter

Please note that the subject headings in this section are as they appear within the proposed changes to the charter. That document can be accessed here.

Article 1. Incorporation, Form of Government, Boundaries, Powers

  • No changes have come up on this section according to Dipetta. Sigler addressed style formatting of the charter. 

Article 2. City Council

  • 2-01.D. Composition, Qualifications, and Elections
    • Change reapportionment to redistricting, and the same at 2.02, and wherever else reapportionment occurs. Sheila Broussard made a suggestion that meeting information is advertised publicly. City Attorney Cole said “it would be helpful if [public comments] were reduced to writing so that y’all could then add it to the hopper. There may be people that have good or bad things to say about that. But I think you take all the proposals in that come forward to you guys, and put it on the website as a draft, and then invite the public to come comment.” Dipetta says that Broussard is going over and above what is required by law.

      Sulphur resident Cindy Robertson asks if they are allowed to speak to commissioners outside of the meetings. Dipetta says that will be addressed later. Sigler suggests that language be changed to state that the information will be published in accordance with state law. Rita Lebleu, American Press, asks what law governs that. Mayor Danahey answers that the city must follow state statutes on this. Sigler says there is more than just state law to consider and would like to research. Dipetta says they should talk about it later. Sigler withdraws her motion, and Sittig withdraws his second. See the section on Discussion of Rules for Public Input for more information.
  • 2-04.B. Vacancies
    • 1 year to 18 months and 15 days to 20 days after the vacancy occurs. Broussard asks whether the word “proclamation” could be tied to publishing/advertising information. 
    • LA R.S. 18.602 is the state statute which provides how vacancies are handled and these changes conform the charter to that statute, according to Cole.
  • 2-05. Compensation
    • They would like to add verbiage that provides details on salary. The new language proposed is the following, “The council may, by ordinance, change the salary of the council provided that no ordinance changing such salary shall be passed during the last year of the term of the council and further provided that the salary change shall not become effective during the term of the council in office at the time the salary is changed.”
  • 2-06. Prohibitions
    • Omit language regarding former council members holding any position in government until one year/two years after the expiration of the term for which they were elected to the council. Cole says this was written 40 years ago and was considered as progressive. In the intervening period, Cole says, in approximately 2008, the legislature passed a law in which former council members could not hold a government position for two years. This omission will make way for the appropriate changes.
      • Discussion: Broussard asks if that means that a council member can also serve on a charter commission. She reminds the commission that she passed a petition around and many signed to have the commission be elected. Broussard asks if that can be removed. Dipetta says they will take it under advisement and it will be discussed at a public hearing. 
      • Robertson asks if their suggestions need to be put in writing, and Dipetta responds that that would be nice. 
      • Sigler says at the end of this, Sigler will move to vacate prior motion she made with regard to no contact outside of these meetings, “because the city has gone to the trouble of creating an email address” for suggestions to be addressed. Blanchard says all comments would likely not be put in the newspaper because that would be extremely expensive. Dipetta says all commission members will have access to the emails. Robertson asks if all of their public comments will be in the minutes, and Blanchard says that would be a lot but she will do her best. Dipetta says sending it to the commission via email will be very important.
  • 2-07. Council Meetings and Rules
    • C. What they would like to do is add language indicating that all official action of the city council will be posted and published in accordance with state law, and they are omitting the journal of record for 30 days.
    • D. the council shall operate from an agenda which shall be posted in accordance with applicable state law. Cole says this will keep the city in compliance with LA R.S. 42.19BiCC
      • Discussion: Broussard says there is a big problem with making changes to the agenda so quickly. She says in one meeting, four items were added to a 12 item agenda, and one of those items was a liquor license. She thinks this should be left the same and that this charter is a constitution. Broussard says the purpose of the constitution is to restrict politicians and government and to protect the rights of the people. 
  • 2-10. Council Employees
    • A. Add “and reviewed annually.”
      • Discussion: Cole says the operating budget is approved by an ordinance. Instead of a standalone ordinance to set the salary of one employee (the council secretary). Cole says just because something is deleted in the charter, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t still followed, because the city will follow along with state law.
  • 2-11. Action Requiring an Ordinance
    • Discussion: Broussard points out that it says the council can propose amendments to the charter. Cole says 7-03 is where that can be addressed. Nothing would change that provision, but this says in the exercise of that power, there would have to be an introduction of the ordinance. Sigler asks if Broussard will be sending that in an email, and Broussard says yes.
  • 2-12. Ordinances in General
    • A. (This charter section states: “All proposed ordinances shall be introduced in writing at a meeting of the council and in the form required for adoption and, except for codifications, the operating budget and capital improvement budget, shall be confined to one (1) subject, expressed clearly in the title.”)
      • Discussion: Broussard says she is not sure what the commission can do here. Broussard says that when something is put into the agenda it should say specifically what the council intends to do. Broussard brings up the issue of removing video from public meetings. She asks what they do when the council does the complete opposite. 
      • City Attorney Cole says it is not uncommon that an agenda item is to grant someone a rezoning for whatever reason. “Of course, the council doesn’t know what it’s going to do before going into a meeting because that would be illegal,” Cole said. The ordinance that’s being proposed is to give the rezoning, the unanimous denial does not change the fact that the agenda item is a rezoning.
    • C. “Every enacted ordinance, unless it shall specify another date, shall become effective upon the approval of the Mayor or approval of the Council over his veto, as provided for in Section 2-13.”
  • 2-14. Emergency Ordinances
    • Discussion: Robertson says with Laura it took a long time to get back to normal and asks if 60 days was enough then, during a natural disaster. Cole responds that it can change according to what is relevant to each emergency declaration.
  • 2-15. Codes of Technical Regulations
    • 30 days changed to 60 days
    • Changed relations to regulations
  • 2-17. Power to Levy Taxes
    • Add language indicating that the council shall have and is hereby granted all the authority to levy and collect taxes, issue bonds, by the constitution of the general laws of the state, special laws applicable to the city.

Article 3: Executive Branch

  • 3-04. Compensation
    • Omit mayor salary of approximately $38k
  • 3-07. Vacancies
    • B. Basic changes from 1 year to 18 months throughout the entire section
    • C. 15 days changed to 20 days
  • 3-08. Mayor’s Temporary Absence
    • B, add “unavailable to”
  • 3-10. Prohibitions
    • A. Changed from 1 year to 2 years
      • Discussion: Broussard says the very first line says the mayor should be a full time official. Cole says the mayor is required to give 40 hours a week to the city and then if, outside that 40 hours, the mayor has a business (as previous mayor did with an insurance agency), then that is on their own time. 
    • B. Add that nothing in this section shall prohibit a mayor from a seat at the council.

Discussion of Rules for Public Input

  • Sigler says there has been an email set up for the purposes of public interaction.
  • Sigler made a motion to reconsider the original prohibition of interaction with the public. When I asked if there will be any way for those with concerns to contact commissioners, Sigler responded that one central email will be disseminated to all commissioners. Sigler has been the most vocal about not accepting public comment outside of meetings, but there is some recent pushback by Chairman Dipetta, who counters that there is a list of committee members and phone numbers for other commissions. He believes there should not be a limitation on how citizens contact them. Sigler says, “as someone who runs a law office, I don’t want people inundating my work email. Time is money for me in my profession…it needs to go through official channels for me.”
  • Danahey says they can set up emails for every committee member. Sigler says she has no problem setting up an additional email account. Danahey adds a caveat that if they respond to any emails sent to that forwarding address, it will reveal the respondent’s personal email address. 
  • Discussion: Broussard says the Civic League indicates that these types of meetings are one of the worst places to get input because they are poorly attended. Broussard suggests that meetings for the charter commission should be on a calendar, and says to keep in mind that some of the best charters that were ever written were not accepted because they had not been available to the public as it was worked through. 

Open discussion with Commissioners

  • Mayor Danahey thanked the commissioners for what he says was quite an undertaking and a great public service.

Outcomes

The commission will go through Articles 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 at the next meeting. Subsequent meetings will occur on the following dates at 5:30 PM:

  • January 23, Working session
  • February 16, Public input session
  • March 16, Working session
  • March 27, Follow up working session
  • Additional special meetings would be scheduled on an as-needed basis

Follow-up questions

How will documents containing the proposed changes to the charter be made available to the public? 

Chairman Dipetta says that they will be available upon request. Through a public records request, Southwest Louisiana Journal obtained the working document, which can be accessed here.

How can the public currently get their questions, comments, and/or concerns to the commission? 

We reached out to the city for comment on this issue and were given the email for current Council/Charter Commission Secretary Arlene Blanchard. Public input for changes to the Home Rule Charter can be addressed to ablanchard@sulphur.org.


Links

  1. Agenda
  2. Minutes from December meeting
  3. Read our notes from December’s meeting here.
  4. Sulphur Home Rule Charter
  5. Sulphur Home Rule Charter proposed changes

Video

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.