FOR KIDS: PLAY THE 'COUNTIES WORK' GAME TO LEARN ABOUT LOCAL GOVERNMENT
St. Charles Parish operates under a Home Rule Charter, which provides for separate legislative and executive branches independent of each other.
Legislative matters are handled by an elected nine-member Council, while the elected Parish President serves as administrator.
The Home Rule Charter was an option offered local governments when the State of Louisiana adopted its new constitution in 1974. It was included in the State Constitution at the insistence of local officials who felt the need to strengthen local governments throughout the state.
Prior to this, the parish operated under the Policy Jury System. Under this system, jurors were elected from wards or districts. They operated as both legislators and administrators, handling day-to-day operations of the parish.
The system was restrictive. Parish government could exercise only that authority specifically given them by the state Legislature. The Home Rule Charter of St. Charles Parish allows much more flexibility. The parish has the authority to do anything that is not inconsistent with state law.
St. Charles Parish adopted its Home Rule Charter in 1978. At the time it was the second parish in the state to embrace this form of governance. The conversion to home rule was completed in 1980, when the Council and Parish President were installed under the new charter.
The Council is made up of nine members. Seven are elected from districts and two are at-large members elected parishwide, with one residing on the East Bank of the Mississippi River and one residing on the West Bank of the Mississippi River.
The Council’s principal function is to enact ordinances, or laws. However, the Charter also gives them broad additional powers, including levying taxes, appropriating funds and fixing penalties for violations of local ordinances.
The daily routine of government is the responsibility of the Parish President, who heads the executive, or administrative, branch of Parish government.
The President carries out the policies developed by the Council and implements the Council’s decisions. He has the responsibility for hiring and firing subject to personnel policies and rules adopted by the Council. Department directors are appointed by the Parish President and must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Council.
All programs are handled on a parishwide basis by departments staffed by professionals.
Duties and Powers of the Parish Council
As outlined in the Home Rule Charter, the Parish Council is vested with and exercises all legislative power in the parish of St. Charles.
In addition to having complete legislative authority, the Parish Council may:
- Levy and collect taxes, special assessments, service charges, license charges, fees and other revenues and borrow money in such a manner and subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.
- Make appropriations for all parish purposes.
- Require periodic and special reports from all parish officers concerning the affairs of their respective departments, offices, agencies or special districts. The reports shall be submitted by and through the Parish President in the case of departments, offices, agencies and special districts subject to his jurisdiction.
- Make investigation of parish affairs and make inquiries into the conduct of any department, office, agency or special district of the parish, including the investigation of the accounts, records and transactions of the department, office, agency or special district; and for the purpose of investigation of the accounts, records and transactions of the department, office, agency or special district; and other evidence. Any person who fails or refuses to obey any lawful order of the Council shall, upon conviction, be punished in such a manner as the Council shall fix by ordinance.
- Create parish departments, offices or agencies in addition to those created by the Charter.
- By ordinance, abolish or consolidate any parish department, office, agency, board or commission or provide for the consolidation and transfer of any of the function of such departments, offices, agencies, boards or commissions.
- Enter into contracts with other governmental units within or outside the boundaries of the parish for joint performance or performance by one unit on behalf of the other of any authorized function of activity.
- By ordinance, establish, merge, reorganize, consolidate and/or abolish special districts within which may be provided fire protection, recreation, police protection, water, streets, drainage, sidewalks, street lighting, waste and garbage collection and disposal, sewerage and sewerage disposal systems and other similar facilities and services. All parish funds for such districts shall be provided by service charges, special assessments, general tax levies or as otherwise provided by law, within such districts only. When acting as the governing body of special districts as provided by this Charter, the Parish Council shall have the same jurisdiction and powers as when acting as the Council.
- Provide, in manner and in amounts consistent with sate law, penalties for the violation of this Charter and of parish ordinances.
- Provide budgetary, fiscal and other controls over all special boards, commissions, agencies, districts or any device having governmental functions which it or its predecessor has created to insure the maximum possible coordination of government at the local level in St. Charles Parish.
- Perform any other acts consistent with state law deemed to be for the best interest of the people of St. Charles Parish.
- The Council shall have the power of eminent domain and the right to expropriate property for public purposes as provided by law. The Council shall make fair and just compensation for any properties acquired in the exercise of its powers, duties or functions.
Duties and Powers of the Parish President
In accordance with the Charter, the Parish President is responsible for carrying out the policies adopted by the Parish Council and for the administration, direction and supervision of all parish departments, offices, agencies and special districts, the heads of which are appointed by him or her.
The Parish President must see that all laws, provisions of the Charter and acts of the Council subject to enforcement by him or her or offices subject to his direction or supervision are faithfully executed.
In addition to handling the daily affairs of the Parish, the Charter mandates that the Parish President:
- Prepare and submit an annual operating budget and capital outlay program to the Council and shall be responsible for executing the budget and capital program after adoption by the Council.
- He shall submit to the Council and make available to the public monthly reports on the finances and administrative activities of the parish. No later than three months following the close of each fiscal year, he shall present the Council with a complete financial and operating report on the affairs of the parish for the fiscal year just ended.
- He shall make such other reports as the council may require concerning the operations of parish departments, offices and agencies subject to his direction and supervision.
- He shall keep the Council fully advised of the financial condition and the needs of the parish and shall make such recommendations to the Council concerning the affairs of the parish as he deems desirable.
The Home Rule Charter established the Department of Finance, the Parish Legal Advisor and the Department of Planning and Zoning. The Charter also provided that the Parish Council may, by ordinance, establish other parish departments, offices or agencies. Each parish department, office or agency is administered by an officer appointed by and subject to the direction and supervision of the Parish President. These department heads may be suspended or removed by written order of the President.
Except as specifically provided by this Charter, neither the Council nor any of its members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any parish administrative officer or employee whom the Parish President or any of his subordinates are empowered to appoint, but the Council may discuss with the President anything pertaining to the appointment and removal of such officers and employees.
Except for the purpose of inquiry and investigation, the Council and its members shall deal with parish officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the Parish President solely through the President, and neither the Council nor its members shall give any orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.
Departments Established by the Home Rule Charter
- Department of Finance: This office assists the Parish President in preparing and executing the parish budget and capital program. This department, which was created by the Home Rule Charter, is also responsible for disbursement of all funds in the parish treasury, preparation of monthly and annual financial reports and maintenance of records and parish indebtedness.
- Department of Legal Services: This department represents the Parish President and the Parish Council whenever legal services are needed. This department also advises the Parish President and Council when opinions are required and prosecutes or defends all suits or actions in which the Parish President or Council are parties.
- Department of Planning and Zoning: The Planning and Zoning Department conducts studies and recommends plans for proper development of the parish. This department, which was created by the Home Rule Charter, advises and proposes actions to be taken by the Planning Commission, processes building permits, zoning and subdivision requests and coordinates coastal zone management.
- Department of Emergency Preparedness: This department was created to develop, maintain, update and coordinate emergency plans for the parish, and coordinates procedures to minimize the effects of natural and man-made disasters. Emergency Preparedness has implemented and maintains an emergency warning system for citizens. This department was created June 11, 1980.
- Department of Public Works and Wastewater: This department maintains parish properties and parish streets, sidewalks, roads and bridges, drains, ditches, canals and pumping stations. It is also responsible for traffic engineering, street cleaning and right-of-way maintenance and supervises and coordinates engineering studies for drainage and road projects. Wastewater is responsible for the operation and maintenance of all parish-owned wastewater facilities, including collections systems, treatment plants, oxidation ponds and buildings. This department also supervises and coordinates engineering studies for ongoing and future wastewater projects. This department was created in 1980.
- Department of Parks and Recreation: This department provides and coordinates all recreational services offered by St. Charles Parish. It is responsible for operating and maintaining parish leased or owned recreational facilities and securing, developing and maintaining future recreational facilities and seeking potential funding for and developing recreational plans. This department was created Dec. 1, 1980
- Department of Community Services: This department administers and supervises community action, weatherization, energy assistance, housing rehabilitation and emergency assistance programs, which serve St. Charles Parish residents. This department also monitors the activities of all community services organizations within the parish.
- Department of Economic Development and Tourism: This agency administers, develops, manages, implements and promotes industrial development, community development and business development programs. It also develops, coordinates and maintains statistics and information relating to population, employment and trends and initiates economic development policy recommendations for the Parish President and the Parish Council. This department also serves as a liaison between the parish and local organizations and with individual members of the business and industrial communities in the parish.
- Department of Waterworks: This department is responsible for supplying drinking water for residential, commercial and industrial usage and also provides water for fire protection. It operates and maintains river water pumping facilities, water treatment plants, ground and elevated storage tanks, underground distribution systems and appurtenances.