A bill to create an inspector general’s position for St. Tammany Parish will not be submitted for the current legislative session as planned due to home-rule charter and constitutional concerns, state Sen. A.G. Crowe announced Wednesday. Crowe, R-Pearl River, said he will introduce a Senate resolution to form a task force to come up with a state law to create the IG office.
The formation of the task force will not delay the creation of the watchdog office, and the goal is to place a measure before St. Tammany voters in November of next year, he said.
“While we all agree there is a need to establish an inspector general’s office in St. Tammany Parish, we also want to make sure that any law we consider to create the office does not run into constitutional problems and result in costly, time-consuming legal battles,” Crowe said. “We have an obligation to address the issue intelligently and responsibly. At this point no bill this year is better than an unconstitutional bill that might expose the taxpayers of St. Tammany Parish to lawsuits.”
Crowe’s announcement came a day after his early draft of an IG bill was roundly criticized in the parish. He huddled with Parish President Pat Brister, St. Tammany legislators and others Tuesday night and had said he hoped to have a bill filed by Wednesday afternoon’s deadline.
Brister said her administration will continue to push for an inspector general that has jurisdiction over all taxing bodies in the parish. “We certainly want to make sure we start the process correctly and even if this means we need to wait to accomplish this so all questions regarding constitutionality may be answered,” she said in a statement. “If we are to have an IG’s office then we need to assure the citizens of this parish that it’s done right, we have a way to pay for the department, and the position has the authority needed to fulfill its mission.”
Parish Councilman Jake Groby said he was disappointed by Wednesday’s developments. Regarding the constitutionality issues, Groby said, “Why was this not talked about weeks ago? Why is this coming up in the last 24 hours?”
Rick Franzo, president of the Concerned Citizens of St.Tammany, also questioned the timing of the constitutionality questions, saying such issues should have been addressed by staffers early in the formation of the bill.
“Don’t tell me an hour before (the deadline to file the bill) that we have a constitutionality question,” said Frazo, who has been one of the most vocal proponents of an inspector general for the north shore. “That’s like telling me you never really had any intent to have an IG bill.”
The League of Women Voters of St. Tammany and others have been calling for the creation of an IG for years. That movement has gained widespread support in recent months following reports of freewheeling spending and other questionable practices by the parish coroner’s office. Coroner Peter Galvan’s office is under investigation by the Legislative Auditor and federal authorities, and Brister and the Parish Council recently called on Galvan to step down.
Brister and civic leaders have said that an IG should have broad powers to investigate all government bodies, including the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, assessor and the many fire, recreation, drainage, water, sewer and lighting districts throughout the parish.
The early draft of Crowe’s bill began circulating on Tuesday, prompting an outcry from some civic leaders and public officials. The draft did not include an appointing authority or funding source, and it appeared to limit the IG’s authority to the Brister administration and the Parish Council.
Groby called the draft “almost useless.”
Franzo said, “It’s not acceptable … it’s absolutely not what we want.”
Crowe stressed Tuesday that the document was merely a draft. He and his staffers gathered in a Senate conference room Tuesday night with a large group – including Brister, New Orleans IG Ed Quatrevaux, Jefferson Parish IG David McClintock, Franzo, St. Tammany legislators, League of Women Voters President Sandra Slifer and attorneys for the Parish Council and sheriff’s office – to talk about what elements the bill should contain.
Slifer said she and others stayed behind after the meeting and worked on the bill with Crowe’s staffers until 10 p.m. She said Wednesday morning that the situation looked “very encouraging.”
Parish Council Chairman Jerry Binder said Wednesday afternoon that he had not yet received word about the bill. “It’s catching me by surprise.”
Binder said he knew that some people had expressed legal concerns about the bill. “To do a bill that could have constitutional concerns . . . it’s probably not a good bill.”
Even without an IG bill this year, Binder said, citizens should remember that the Legislative Auditor is giving the coroner’s office a thorough examination. “It’s not like the big front-burner issue isn’t going to be handled.”
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