Sulphur Home Rule Charter vote set for Saturday, Oct. 14
Published 10:21 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023
On Saturday, Oct. 14, City of Sulphur citizens will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” to accept the revised and restated Home Rule Charter, a charter that Charter Commission Chair Danny DiPetta said was living in 1986 until a commission helped bring it into the 21st century.
DiPetta chaired the commission, and at the Monday City Council meeting said most of the updates had to do with keeping the document in line with state statutes as required by law.
Sheila Broussard, a Sulphur resident, who attends and videos Council meetings and airs those recordings on a Concerned Sulphur Citizens Facebook site, said she plans to vote “no” because she wants to see the meeting agenda posted sooner than the revised Charter dictates. She doesn’t want to see Council members able to add anything to the agenda at the meeting or vote themselves a raise. She wants to see term limits added. She also wanted to see commissioners elected rather than appointed.
24-Hour Agenda Notice
Currently, the City Clerk is required to post the Council agenda seven days in advance of the meeting. If the new charter is passed, the City Clerk will post the agenda no less than 24-hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays. This means that the agenda will be posted on Friday for the Monday meeting.
Broussard pointed out that a 24-hour notice, as represented in the state statute, requires that at least a 24-hour notice is given, not that the notice has to be posted in 24 hours. She said citizens need more time to review the agenda, perhaps do a ride-by of properties listed on the agenda, and decide if they should attend in person.
Sulphur Mayor Danahay said citizens will have Friday afternoon, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to review the agenda, and offered an administrative viewpoint.
The City operates four weeks out of the month, not three, he said, and the business of the final week before the Monday Council meeting can be impeded or result in the need to amend the agenda to keep operations on track, implying that an agenda posted on Friday would lead to less need for amendments.
City Attorney Cade Cole addressed Broussard’s concern that the new Charter seemed to indicate “anything” could be added to the agenda at the Council meeting.
Adding an agenda item, Cole said, does not require a majority vote but a unanimous vote. “If any single member of the Council objects, the item can’t be added,” Cole said.
While citizens cannot vote on whether an agenda item is added, they can speak in favor or against adding it.
DiPetta said the revised Home Rule Charter contains a mechanism by which the City Council can review compensation. Here’s how it reads: 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 office at the time the salary is changed.
In other words, the seated Council can vote to increase the salary of newly elected Council members. That could mean a raise for themselves – if they are re-elected. This, like other council business, would be placed on the agenda for three consecutive meetings as an introduction, ordinance and public hearing, during which citizens can speak. Council member Nic Nezat said he doesn’t believe that any legislative body should be able to vote themselves a raise.
The Charter Commission researched the salaries of 30 municipalities, and how Home Rule Charters are used to determine compensation before putting in the revision.
Currently Sulphur City Council members receive $350 per month, which comes to $287 after taxes. DeQuincy, with a population of 1,800 and Vinton, with a population of 1,200, pays its Council members $350 per month. Westlake, with a population of 4,568, pays Council members $510 per month. Sulphur’s population is over 22,450.
Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish, has a population of about 21,000. Its Council members receive $1,753 per month. DeRidder has a population of 9,745. Its Council members receive $1,000 each month. Jennings, with a population of 10,383, pays its Council members $500 per month.
Dipetta wondered at the logic of a public that would elect and trust officials who help oversee a $30,000 million budget and handle other high level decision making, and not trust them to review and raise the salary for next term’s members.
Review the new charter
to cast an informed vote
Ultimately it’s up to voters to decide. Before doing so, it’s important to see exactly what’s changed rather than relying on word of mouth or social media.
Here’s one way to do that. For those who have access to a computer or mobile device, go to Sulphur.org. At the top of the page that shows up is the following: Home Rule Charter Revisions-Master. Click on it. That leads to a page with three live links, the Home Rule Charter master strikethrough, the Home Rule Charter Master final version and the State statues as referenced in the Home Rule Charter.
It will be necessary to view all three documents to get a complete picture of the changes, but it doesn’t take long to do so. (For those without computer access, call City Hall to find out how to review the new Charter.)
In addition to Danny Dipetta, Donna Emmons, Gena Granger, Sid Rosteet, Carla Sigler, Justin Sittig and Becky Venissat served as Sulphur Home Rule Charter Commissioners. The commission secretary is City Clerk Arlene Blanchard.