The Parish Council voted down a move by Council Chairman Gary Spillman to put term limits for the parish president on the ballot this fall during the Thursday, June 13 meeting. Following a lengthy debate, the council voted 3-6 against presenting three, four-year term limits for the office to the voters in November.
“I’m not asking the council members to vote for or against term limits, I’m asking council members to allow the constituents to vote,” Spillman said.
Spillman made the motion, which gained support from council members Ricky Loupe and Phil Porto. A substitute motion by Councilman Kirk Allain, which increased the number of terms from three to four, gained slightly more support but ultimately failed.
A 12-year term limit would negatively impact the pool of candidates by deterring those who are younger than 50 or have not worked for the parish from running, Allain said.
“I do believe that there should be a term limit on it, but I just believe that 12 years is too short of a term,” Allain continued.
Clayton Hebert, a candidate in the upcoming election for Parish President, asked the council to “give the voters a chance to let their voices be heard” as the lone public commenter.
The people of West Baton Rouge voted on term limits for the parish council, but were never allowed the opportunity to vote on term limits for the parish president, Spillman said.
“I totally disagree with that,” Berthelot replied. “I knew what I was voting for when I voted for the home rule charter.”
Twenty-four years ago, the Home Rule Charter Committee researched and drafted, in essence, a constitution for West Baton Rouge Parish. Voters approved the document, which imposed term limits for the Parish Council members and exempted the Parish president from term limits, among many other legal stipulations. Since then, the parish has elected two parish presidents, Ted Denstel and Berthelot.
“It’s not a perfect document, but it has worked well and has a history of working well in West Baton Rouge Parish over the last 24 years,” Berthelot said.
Surrounding parishes look to the West Side as a model parish, he added.
The proposed change to the home rule charter to implement term limits, if approved by voters, would not go into effect until 2024. The amendment would not impact Berthelot, who is currently serving his fourth term. However, the timing of the proposal felt like a “personal attack to discredit” his campaign for a fifth term in office, he said.
The timing was Berthelot’s biggest objection against bringing the change to the ballot.
Berthelot also cited concerns of job security for department heads and invaluable institutional knowledge gained through multiple terms as concerns.
“It takes a good two terms just to know where everything is,” Berthelot said.
Spillman said the move was not a personal attack and said he is frequently asked why Parish Council members are term-limited, but the parish president is not. Councilman Chris “Fish” Kershaw, who represents the largest district in the parish, said he had not received any phone calls on the issue.
“I say let the document work. It’s 24 years old. It’s really still in its infancy,” Kershaw said, “I don’t know why you want to change something that, to me, has been working pretty good. I think we have a solution looking for a problem.”
Once uploaded by the parish administration, a video ofA full video of the meeting is available here.