ST. MARTINVILLE — A 16th Judicial District Court judge has ruled that the city of St. Martinville’s special legislative charter does not provide the mayor with veto power, setting up a trip to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal for Mayor Melinda Mitchell.
Mitchell forced the issue last fall when she said she would veto legislation the council passed to pay the next mayor at a part-time rate rather than as a full-time employee. Mitchell contended that, because the charter did not specifically mention the veto, that it was a power reserved to the mayor under the state’s Lawrason Act.
But in his decision, 16th JDC Judge Anthony Saleme said that the charter is not silent on the mayor’s role in the legislative process, including the mayor as part of the council who is allowed to vote in case of a tie due to absence or abstention.
In defining the mayor’s role without including the power of veto, the charter established St. Martinville’s government under a weak mayor/strong council model, which it has operated as for more than 120 years.
“For 28 years I have been on the council, both as a councilman and as mayor pro tem,” said St. Martinville District 1 Councilman Mike Fuselier. “There has never been even one veto brought up because we always assumed there was no veto under the charter.”
Fuselier and Mitchell were the only two witnesses to testify during the trial Wednesday morning. In his argument, Milton cited a 1962 Louisiana Supreme Court case that allowed the mayor of Ville Platte to exercise veto power, but Ville Platte is governed under the Lawrason Act, not under a separate charter.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Saleme took less than an hour to research the case and return with his decision, stating that the 1962 case was not applicable to St. Martinville.
Saleme’s decision relates only to the legal question of the mayor’s role in the legislative process. Numerous other issues attorney John Milton raised in his brief in support of Mitchell’s position were severed from the primary issue in February. No date has been set to hear those claims.
Milton said that he will definitely be filing an appeal of Wednesday’s ruling.