Calcasieu's System

Reported by Marty Briggs

A police jury may have no fewer than five members nor can they have more than 15 members. A parish with less than 10,000 people may have as few as three members.

The statutes do not designate how a police jury should organize to discharge its functions, and consequently, have considerable flexibility.  This flexibility is cited as an advantage of the police jury system.

Calcasieu parish police juror Kevin Guidry: "Honestly, Marty, I think that's why we've had the success that we've had because 15 members can sit up here and pretty much agree on what's best. Not what's best for us as individuals, but what's best for this parish as a whole. That's why we've been elected to this position, to serve the people of this parish."

Calcasieu parish police juror Hal McMillin: "We are trying to bring the parish together as a whole. This is why it works in Calcasieu Parish, the many things we do parish-wide; such as trash pickup, mosquito control, the library system, the judicial system we have. We've got a lot of great things going really right in this parish."

The police jury system vests both legislative and administrative functions in the same persons.  The jury performs the legislative functions of enacting ordinances, establishing programs and setting policy.  It also is an administrative body in that it is involved in preparing the budget, hiring and firing personnel, spending funds, negotiating contracts, and in general, directing the activities under its supervision.

Another advantage cited for the police jury system is that it provides government close to the people. The typically large juries, elected from single member districts, permit each juror to know his or her constituents and their problems.

There are some criticisms of the police jury system. One of those concerns is that police juries centralize responsibilities to some extent, and generally have no provisions for a strong chief executive officer.

Also, the system is somewhat restrictive, since parish government can exercise only the authority specifically given them by the state legislature.

Mark McMurry is the Calcasieu parish administrator, the man who runs the parish on a day-to-day basis. He functions much like a CEO of a business.

Mark McMurry: "The Council-Manager, or Administrator form of government really is designed more after the corporate model, where stockholders of the corporation elect their board of directors, and those board of directors hire a CEO to take care of the day-to-day business, administering the policy that the board of director's set. Most CEO's don't have policy setting capacity, nor do I."

McMurry addresses those criticisms that a form of government developed in the early 1800's is not up-to-date for the 21st century.

McMurry: "It was not until 1972 in Calcasieu Parish that we had a day-to-day administrator. Prior to that time, police jurors were elected from wards, and those police jurors from those wards basically managed the affairs of the roads and road improvements in those wards. There was no centralized purchasing, there was no centralized personnel, there was no centralized budgeting. It was all done by jurors from those wards. So, to suggest that we're operating under a system that's been around since the early 1800's is really not accurate. It's true, but it's not accurate because it's different today. This system where they appoint professional management is a far cry from what was even being done here in the 60's."

In 1912, the three parishes of Allen, Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis were cut off from Calcasieu parish. These were the last parishes created in Louisiana.

And just in case you're curious, the Louisiana constitution of 1845 dropped all references to counties.