Mandeville council to decide on submitting charter amendments to voters

After a series of public meetings on the issues involved, Mandeville’s City Council on Thursday will consider ordinances to submit eight proposed amendments to the Home Rule Charter to the voters. If passed in November, the amendments would institute lifetime term limits for council members, eliminate the practice of “musical chairs” on the council, allow the council to hire its own attorney and make several other technical changes.

The amendments, which can be downloaded at the city’s website, were crafted in consultation with attorney Victor Franckiewicz and discussed at length in public meetings in April and May.

They were introduced May 22, and the council must either approve or reject the submitted language for each one Thursday night. It cannot alter the wording.

The charter has not been updated in two decades, officials said.

In anticipation of a potentially long meeting, the council will convene at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than usual.

Several officials, including Mayor Donald Villere and Councilmen Rick Danielson and David Ellis, have said eight amendments are too many to put before the city’s voters at one time and that three or four would be a more manageable number. In an annotated summary of the amendments, Villere announced his opposition to four of them and urged the council to reject them.

Among the most controversial of the amendments are two that would affect the number of consecutive terms that council members can serve.

Currently, council members can serve two consecutive terms, but the limit can be sidestepped if a council member is able to move from one of the three district seats to one of the two at-large seats or vice versa. One of the proposed charter amendments would set a limit of three consecutive terms on the council, regardless of the seats involved.

A second term-limit proposal would make three terms a lifetime limit, meaning no one could ever serve more than three terms on the council.

Although Mayor Pro tem Clay Madden, who chairs the council meetings, has been a strong proponent of term limits, Villere and Councilwoman Carla Buchholz have said the voters can term-limit candidates simply by voting them out of office.

Putting term limits on council members would also have the effect of removing institutional memory from the council, Villere has said, offering an implicit critique of the current council — four of whose members were first elected in 2012 and with whom he has repeatedly clashed.

Another proposed amendment that has provoked heated discussion during charter review meetings is whether the council ought to be able to hire its own attorney, a move championed by Councilman Ernest Burguières, himself a lawyer.

Currently, one attorney, Edward Deano, advises both the administration and the City Council. When a special counsel is needed, the mayor hires the attorney. Burguières, however, said he thinks the council should have the flexibility to hire its own attorney on an as-needed basis.

“It’s not to do litigation,” he said. “Sometimes you have issues in which the council and the administration have different interests, and they each need their own attorney.”

Villere has scoffed at the idea, calling it “opinion shopping” and saying it makes little sense for a town Mandeville’s size.

Other proposed amendments would more narrowly define “professional service” contracts that must be brought to the council for approval, redefine the human resources director as a civil service position and put responsibility for personnel policy under the personnel board.

Other so-called “technical amendments” to the charter are intended to bring its language more in line with state law and simplify certain provisions.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.