Parish charter update is on ballot

Published 3:29 am Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The amended and restated Washington Parish Home Rule Charter is up for ratification on the Oct. 12 ballot. The charter is the “operating system,” or constitution, of the Washington Parish Government.

The current charter was drafted in 1997, for the transition between the old Police Jury form of government to the President/Council form the parish has today. It is difficult to update/revise or amend the charter. In order to do so, it requires the formation of a Charter Commission, a recommendation to the Parish Council from the Charter Commission, a 2/3 affirmation vote of the Parish Council to send to ballot, and ratification by the electorate through a public vote. The charter has never previously been amended or updated, because of the immense difficulty and expense.

The current charter is a transitional document that changed the form of government. While Police Juries still exist in Louisiana, most are in very rural parishes. A Home Rule Charter gives local governments more autonomy from legislative interference. Unlike the Police Jury that had 14 jurors and 14 districts where each juror had executive and legislative authority, a Home Rule Charter provides clear separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of the parish government — creating a balance of power to better represent the constituency and more evenly distribute parish services and resources.

Due to the transitional language of the current charter, some ambiguous language as determined by parish legal professionals, a multitude of grammatical and typographical errors, and the need to update to conform to modern legal standards, the Washington Parish Council (acting as the Charter Commission), the Parish Attorney, the Head of the Civil Division of the District Attorney’s Office, the Parish President, and Directors of the Washington Parish Government Administration have taken on this daunting task. Numerous public meetings have been held, and a large amount of effort and time has been used to bring the citizens of Washington Parish an amended and restated charter, which parish officials hope will last at least another 20 years.

There is not an overabundance of changes or additions, but there are enough changes along with the grammatical and typographical errors — including transitional language — to justify putting the amended and restated charter on the ballot. Having the complete amended and restated charter on the ballot is more sensible and economical than having piece by piece voted on. Parish officials sincerely believe that all parties involved have put personal interests aside to come up with a document to best serve the public.

The updated version can be seen on the Washington Parish Government website at www.washingtonparishalerts.org. The new language appears in red. This is not a tax.