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Port Allen updates code of ordinances

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

The Port Allen city council has updated the city’s code of ordinances with regard to department heads, employment procedures, salary information and banking procedures.

The code of ordinances previously mentioned department heads but never clarified who they were. A majority of the city council moved to change that fact last year when former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter fired the city’s CFO without city council approval.

Many city officials and residents considered the CFO a department head whose hiring and firing is subject to city council approval. However, Slaughter maintained that the CFO was simply “an administrative staff position to the mayor.”

CFO Audrey McCain took the issue to court in February of last year and won a preliminary injunction reversing the firing and preventing Slaughter from taking any adverse employment action against her.

The Port Allen city council has now clarified the term ‘department heads’ to mean the following five positions: CFO, Chief Administrative Officer, Director of Public Works, Fire Chief and Police Chief.

The new ordinance passed 3-2 with council members Hugh Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble voting in favor and council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown voting in opposition.

A majority of the city council also moved to update the city’s employment procedures after Slaughter quickly hired one utility clerk last year due to what she called an “emergency situation” and after she hired two others based on a single advertisement. Slaughter announced the hiring of those two clerks to the city council in open meeting after the clerks were already working in city hall, according to data obtained last year via a public records request.

The new ordinance stipulates that prior to hiring, first the mayor must declare in writing that the position is vacant and needs to be filled. The mayor declares this only after meeting with the Chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, the CFO and Chief Administrative Officer.

The city must then advertise for three consecutive weeks. The new ordinance lists specific information to include in the advertisement, including “a brief job description, qualifications, deadline date for applications to be received to be considered and a place of receipt.” The new ordinance further stipulates, “After the position(s) is (are) filled, the application process shall be closed until another vacancy occurs.”

The new ordinance also stipulates that the mayor must announce the name of the potential hire to the city council in open meeting “prior to offering a position of employment to anyone.” The mayor, with that announcement, must include the “rate of compensation…in accordance with the City’s Step/Grade Pay Plan,” the amount of money available in the budget to cover the hire, and a document certifying to the city council “that the person who is proposed to be hired meets all of the qualifications for the position to be filled.”

Interim Mayor Lynn Robertson stated prior to the city council’s vote that, “In no way are we trying to take away the authority of the mayor at all.”

McCain said hiring due to an “emergency situation” was never in the city’s code of ordinances.

Robertson said, “I would never consider any emergency to hire anyone without advertising for three weeks.”

Lawrence said she would only vote yes to the new employment procedures if the city council looked into adding language in the future regarding emergency hires.

The city council voted unanimously to adopt the new employment procedures.

The city council also adopted an ordinance 4-1 to officially set the salaries of elected officials and the Municipal Clerk, a position often held by the CFO and a statutorily mandated position under the Louisiana Lawrason Act.

The mayor’s salary became an issue last year when Slaughter, based on a written opinion of former city attorney Victor Woods, rejected the intended $65,000 a year for the mayor’s salary (beginning Jan. 1, 2013) and instructed the city’s payroll clerk to pay her at the rate of previous mayors, about $85,000 annually.

18th Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Batiste determined that the $65,000 a year salary was not properly set, and so the council moved to officially set the mayor’s salary via ordinance. However, because the salary ordinance was coupled with department head clarification, Slaughter vetoed it.

The new ordinance sets the following salaries:

The Mayor at about $85,000 annually

The Chief of Police at about $76,000 annually

The City Court Judge of Ward 3 in West Baton Rouge Parish at about $28,500 annually

The Constable of Ward 3 in West Baton Rouge Parish at $12,000 annually

The Municipal Clerk at $7,800 annually

Finally, the city council approved an ordinance requiring two signatures on all city checks.

Check signing became an issue last year when Slaughter removed McCain’s signing authority from all of the city’s bank accounts. A majority of the city council were concerned about the lack of checks and balances this created.

McCain could no longer access the city’s bank accounts online but instead had to rely only on mailed bank statements.

Following the successful recall of Slaughter in November, Lawrence, the Mayor Pro-Tempore, restored McCain’s signing authority.

The new ordinance stipulates that the Mayor signs all city checks and that the CFO co-signs the checks. If the mayor is unavailable to sign, the Mayor Pro-Tempore must sign. If the CFO is unavailable to co-sign, the Chief Administrative Officer must sign.

McCain said, “It’s designed on purpose so that two administrative employees cannot sign,” referring to the practice during Slaughter’s administration of having the mayor and the Mayor Pro-Tempore sign the checks, not the mayor and the CFO.

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