Hammond City Council is again leaning into the idea that if you don’t like something, change it.
Council members have begun the process of getting the Hammond City Charter reviewed for the first time in nearly a decade. This time, the council has decided to change the makeup of the charter advisory committee.
At the council meeting Tuesday, they decided each of the five council members will appoint one person to serve on the six-member committee. The sixth member will be appointed by the mayor and will not have any voting power. The committee will make recommendations to the council that could simplify, clarify, amend, add or delete provisions they feel needed.
Councilmen Devon Wells, Kip Andrews and Sam DiVittorio voted to establish the committee with amendments to how it was done previously, giving the mayor only one non-voting appointee instead of two voting appointees and broadening the residency requirement from appointees needing to live in Hammond to only needing to reside in Tangipahoa Parish. Council member Carlee Gonzales and Steve Leon voted against changing the committee member requirements, as well as moving forward with the process.
The council will need to approve any suggested changes the committee makes before items can become propositions for Hammond residents to vote on.
“We’re trying to make our final report by June 30. That would put us at a Nov. 13 election should there be propositions people wish to see at that review,” said Lacy Landrum, city administrator.
Initially, Andrews suggested removing both of the mayor’s appointments, but after discussion, agreed to let the mayor have a single non-voting appointment on the committee. Wells suggested removing the residency requirement.
Mayor Pete Panepinto inquired about the council’s fear of having someone from administration on the committee. Wells suggested the issues going on right now with the police as reason enough.
Hammond resident Louise Bostic voiced confusion over the council’s logic when deciding to make these changes.
“This is the city charter review,” Bostic said. “The city charter review committee with no input from the mayor, who is the longest-serving person on this administrative council, and asking for people who are not even a part of our city, this sounds a little absurd as a citizen.”
Wells and DiVittorio pointed out that the city’s planning and zoning committee has members from outside the city serving on it, so why not this committee.
“The mayor and Lacy tell me all the time we make the rules, and we’re making changes now,” Wells said, suggesting the committee changes be given a chance.
Gonzales and Leon also voiced concerns about changing the makeup of the committee.
Last time around
Hammond City Council last reviewed its charter for possible revisions in 2011, almost a decade ago.
City residents Guy Recotta, Jay Kelly, T. Jay Seale III, Curtis Wilson, Vivian Addison, Lonnie Wascom and Tony Licciardi were appointed by the council members and Mayor Mayson Foster to review the then-34-year-old charter.
The 2011 city council focused on making sure demographics of the committee mirrored the city’s demographics in order to meet Department of Justice approval. As a result, that committee included three Black and four non-Black members with six of the seven being male.
After nine months of monthly meetings, the committee agreed to propose eight amendments to the city charter, all of which were approved by the council and made it to the ballot.
The eight proposed amendments that were on the November 2012 ballot were as follows:
- Extending the council term limits to three;
- Providing an additional $500 salary per month for the council president;
- Allowing the council to appoint a provisional mayor in the absence of both the mayor and director of administration;
- Allowing the council to hire a separate legal adviser on a case-by-case basis;
- Adding qualifications and requirements for the police chief;
- Adding qualifications of the fire chief;
- Expanding the definition of “conflicts of interest” to include ownership and interest in any limited liability corporation conducting business with the city; and
- Changing the word “repeal” with “replace” in the section allowing for total repeal of the city charter.
All but one proposed amendment passed. Residents voted against the additional $500 per month salary for the council president.
Topics discussed at committee meetings but not forwarded to the council included a suggestion to make the police chief position an elected one and restructuring the council to have four individual districts with one at-large district.