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Judge: St. Martinville mayor does not have veto power

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Posted at 2:27 PM, May 12, 2021

The Mayor of St. Martinville does not have veto power, a judge has ruled.

Last fall, the Council passed an ordinance that set term limits for all elected city officials and would change the mayor position to part-time and set the salary at $30,000 annually. That ordinance would take effect at the end of the current term.

The current mayor, Melinda Mitchell, said she disagreed and vetoed the ordinance; Mitchell said the city needs a full-time mayor.

The council then asked the city's attorney, Allan Durand, to seek a ruling from the courts on the issue. He filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment, and that is what 16th Judicial District Judge Tony Saleme has ruled on.

Durand said the issue of veto power isn't addressed in the city's charter. Because of that, it was Mitchell's position that the Lawrason Act gave her that power. About 10 years ago, the Lawrason Act - which sets the governmental structure of municipalities that do not adopt their own charters - was amended to say that, if a city's charter is silent on an issue, the Lawrason act provisions will apply.

But, Durand explained that the St. Martinville City Charter is a strong council-weak mayor type of structure; the mayor is a member of the council but only has a vote in the case of a tie. All hiring and firing power rests with the council, he said.

Under the Lawrason Act, the mayor's office is the stronger, with power to hire and fire and to veto council ordinances.

So the judge looked at the governmental structure implemented by both laws, in an attempt to ascertain the intent of those who originally created the St. Martinville city government, he said.

"The judge said the charter is not silent on the role of the mayor in the legislative process. The mayor has a vote every time there's a tie, so it's not silent on that issue, so therefore he found the Lawrason Act does not apply and the mayor does not have a veto," Durand explained.

The judge pointed out that giving the mayor veto power would be a significant change to the structure of government in the city, and said he did not believe that was the intent of the original charter.

That original charter specifically states that all powers not assigned to the mayor are reserved for the council, he said. The Lawrason Act states the opposite, reserving all powers not specifically assigned to the council for the mayor.

We've reached out to Mitchell's attorney, John Milton, but haven't heard back yet.

Durand said that Milton did tell the judge that his client planned to appeal the ruling while they were in court.