|Parish Government Structure|
Parish Government Structure - The Forms of Parish Government
When Louisiana's governmental framework was devised, the structure of parish government was fragmented among a number of different officials and it remains so. The parish governing authority is only one part of the total parish governmental structure. Many functions are vested in independently appointed or elected officials such as the elected assessor, coroner, clerk of court, district attorney and sheriff. Many federal and state mandates must be considered when viewing the overall parish government picture.
38 of state's 64 parishes operate under the Police Jury form of government. The other 26 parishes operate under a form of home rule charter. The home rule charter governments include Council-President, Commission, Consolidated Government, and City-Parish.
Origins of the Police Jury
Louisiana is unique in the nation in that it has parishes which are governed in most cases by police juries. Parishes correspond to counties and police juries to county boards of commissioners or similar local governing bodies in other states.
Once Louisiana had counties. Shortly after the Louisiana territory was purchased by the United States, the newly created Legislative Council met in 1804 and divided the state into 12 counties. These were Orleans, German Coast, Acadia, LaFourche, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, Concordia, Atakapas, Opelousas, Rapides, Natchitoches and Ouachita.
These counties proved too large for satisfactory administration and in 1807, the state was divided into 19 parishes based, for the most part, on the boundaries of the 21 ecclesiastical parishesas they existed under Spanish rule in the late 18th century. Thus parish became the local government district.
Government of the 19 parishes was at first along lines established for the counties wherein county judges served as the chief governing officers. In 1807, the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Orleans revised the parish form of government. A 12-member jury was created to serve with the parish judge and the justice of peace, both of the latter being appointive officials. This body was charged with responsibility for "execution of whatever concerns the interior and local police and for administration of the parish."
Another step was taken in 1810 when legislation created the office of sheriff for each parish and provided that he be paid from the "police assembly of the parish." An 1811 act made members of the police assembly elective and officially designated this body as a "police jury." Powers of the judges were reduced and justices of peace were made ex officio members. (In 1824, justices of peace were dropped from the police jury membership.) Two years later, in 1813, legislation provided for wards within parishes and for election of members from wards to serve on the police juries. (Members were to serve without compensation and to be subject to a fine for non-attendance.)
Parish judges continued to serve on police juries as ex officio presidents until 1830 when legislation excluded them from jury membership. Police juries were gradually given added powers over the next two decades and began to function much as they do today. The Louisiana Constitution of 1845 dropped all references to counties.
The 1974 constitution granted broad home rule authority to parishes and municipalities and reversed the traditional concept of local government as a "creature of the state" possessing only delegated authority.
Police Jury System of Government
The police jury form of government is similar to the traditional commission form common at the county level in other states. The police jury may have no fewer than five members nor more than 15 members, or the number the jury was authorized to have before 1974, if larger. A parish with a population of less than 10,000 may have as few as three members.
The statutes do not designate how a police jury should organize to discharge its functions and, consequently, parishes have considerable flexibility.
The police jury does not have authority to determine its own structure and organization. Neither does it offer the protection from legislative interference in structure, organization, and powers and functions which is provided by a home rule charter.
A home rule charter provides the structure and organization, powers and functions of the parish, which may include the exercise of any power and performance of any function necessary, requisite or proper for the management of its affairs, not denied by general law or inconsistent with the constitution.
PARISH GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONS & RESPONSIBILITIES
The parish governments exercise over fifty different functions and powers including road and bridge construction and maintenance, drainage, sewerage, solid waste disposal, fire protection, recreations and parks, parish prison construction and maintenance, road lighting and marking, many water works, health units and hospitals, etc. They also house and maintain the Courts and the offices of the Assessor, Coroner, Clerk of Court, Registrar of Voters, District Attorney and the Sheriff. They promote economic development and tourism in their parishes, regulate various business activities and administer numerous state and federal programs on the parish level.
MANDATES - LACK OF FISCAL CONTROL
The parish general government has no real control over most expenditures of the constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, clerk of court, assessor, district attorney, coroner and registrar of voters, even though it is required by law to fund a significant portion of those expenditures in several cases. The officers salaries and in some cases their expense funds are dictated by state law. The parishes are required to pay for the offices, furniture and equipment needed by the clerk of court and sheriff, split the cost of furniture and equipment for assessors with the other taxing bodies, pay a specified share of the salaries of district attorneys and their assistants, and pay other charges to various officers (e.g. a daily fee for care of prisoners paid to the sheriff.) The parish has some leeway in working out financing arrangements with the coroner and may contribute beyond mandated levels to other officers' operations. All of the officers are typically housed in the parish courthouse which is owned and maintained by the parish government.
While the parish must pay for certain 'necessary' furniture, equipment and supplies, the law does not permit it to determine what is necessary. The resulting conflicts between parish governments and certain of the officers are occasionally resolved in the courts or by attorney general opinions.
A constitutional amendment was approved by the voters of Louisiana in October of 1991 and became effective in November 1991. This amendment provided that the Legislature could not impose unfunded mandates unless passed by a two thirds vote of the legislature. This amendment has greatly helped local government in the budgeting process. However, the legislature continues to enact legislation mandating costs to local government.
For many years Congress has mandated programs that cost local government millions of dollars. Programs like the Clean Air & Water Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and many others - although very worthy causes, have placed enormous burdens on local government.
Congress recently passed an unfunded mandates law, curtailing this practice.