Shreveport Government 101: Solving the Dog Park

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Every obstacle creates an opportunity to educate.”
Learning Obstacles    It may not be a great quote, but the opportunity to educate in our community is something we have now in mass quantities. And, the litigation over the dog park created opportunities for civics lessons all around.

The bright spot in education can be the “Aha Moment” for anyone for whom previously foggy images become clear and communication begins flowing because formerly at-odds parties find common ground to resolve differences as they find common values or mutually-affected principles requiring the aid of the other party.

Breaking light!
Breaking light!

For those who thought they understood the dog park issues, or those who felt the strife represented petty squabbling, now is your opportunity to become enlightened and gain new perspective into the motivation of some of the parties to the conflict.

The mayor of Shreveport is responsible for far more resources and to far more parties than any other single player in this discussion. Support him, or not, he is the executive of the city for the remainder of his second term. Anyone who doesn’t understand that responsibility should begin reading the City website material related to the mayor’s office and the city charter.

The dog park, represented by Cynthia Keith as the plaintiff, is perhaps the wildcard in the equation in the checks and balance issues being decided in Judge Lean Emanuel’s courtroom. The role they play is probably magnified by the audience of attorneys, city councilmen and others who aspire to influence city policy and government decisions.

The meat of the matter seems to be the manner in which the Shreveport Dog Park Alliance (SPDA) has recognized the work of the city council in supporting this project by passing a resolution to support it. The mayor, committed to a different course, vetoed the council resolution. And this was promptly overridden unanimously by all members of the city council to set the table for the litigation.

Rocket_SurgeryFacts of city administration, as currently interpreted reside in the city charter and in some case law in Shreveport and other jurisdictions around the state that focus on issues being decided. The last time the city charter was amended may be the topic Judge Emanuel references to support his decision in this case. However, citizens are alive today who could bring information to clarify these issues. We hope to hear from some of them in the next few days.

Here are other references that must be in the equation: According to Art Thompson, Clerk of (the City) Council, on the City of Shreveport’s webpage, the following is the public description of the City Council and its role in city government:

All legislative powers accruing to the city under the City Charter and under the Constitution  and laws of the State of Louisiana are vested in and exercised by the council. Section 4.02 of the Charter states that the council is composed of seven (7) members, each of whom is elected from a separate district of the city. Council holds regular meetings twice each month at city hall. The regular meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 3:00 p.m. in the City Council Chamber.

Additionally, these sections of the charter bear directly on the relationship of mayoral executive reach and the city council’s restricted power to regulate:

Section 4.20. – Powers of council respecting organization of city government.

With respect to the organization of the city government, the council by ordinance shall have the exclusive power:

(a) To create and establish new functions of the city government and assign responsibility for administering same;
(b) To create and establish new departments to administer functions not established by this Charter; and
(c) Upon recommendation of the mayor, to reassign or terminate functions, offices and duties which have been specifically assigned by this Charter, or which have been previously assigned by council action, provided, however, that no such ordinance shall change the duties and responsibilities assigned by this Charter to the elective officers named in section 3.01 hereof or those duties and responsibilities assigned to the fire and police departments under Article 11 of this Charter.

Section 4.21. – Veto power of mayor.

Subject to the provisions hereof, the mayor may veto any ordinance or resolution adopted by the council except an ordinance or resolution relating to:

(a) Internal affairs of the council;
(b) Investigations by the council or any duly appointed committee thereof;
(c) The clerk of council, the auditor appointed by the council, or employees of the council; and
(d) Emergency ordinances.

I learn to play this instrument
I learn to play this instrument

Immediately after final passage of an ordinance or resolution with respect to which the mayor has veto power such ordinance or resolution shall be submitted by the clerk of council to the mayor for approval or disapproval. If the mayor approves the ordinance or resolution, he shall sign it and file it with the clerk of council. It shall become effective according to its terms, subject to the provisions of section 4.23 of this Charter. If he disapproves it, he shall return it to the clerk of council within seven (7) days of the date the ordinance or resolution is submitted to him, together with a statement of the grounds of his disapproval.

An ordinance or resolution so disapproved shall be reconsidered by the council at its next regular meeting and shall not take effect unless, subsequent to the veto thereof by the mayor, it be adopted by the council at said next regular meeting upon the affirmative votes of not less than two-thirds (2/3) of the members of the council.

If the mayor fails to approve or disapprove an ordinance or resolution within seven (7) days of its submission to him by the clerk of council, it shall be deemed to have been approved by the mayor as of the last day of such period.

So the facts are perhaps clarified in terms of what the city charter actually says. The only matter not covered is the balance that the judiciary has to determine which of the other two arms of government have sway when the legislative council overrides an executive order, or was that a resolution that overrode an executive veto. Or, as suggested by the Alliance, the reconsidered Resolution is veto-proof and effective without the signature of the Mayor, who already exercised his discretion in the veto: One Veto, One Override, Done.

This is why a little enlightenment may only muddy the waters for a layman. Thursday, May 16 at 9AM, we hope there will be clarification that will allow the non-professional government people to refocus on issues that determine more pressing matters for the city. After all, between water, sewer and the streets that cover them, the city has more important issues at hand.

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