Newly elected Mayor of Port Allen Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter garnered opposition last Wednesday night over her decision to hire a Chief of Staff.
The City of Port Allen currently employs a Chief Administrative Officer and a Chief Financial Officer, but Slaughter said the city needs additional help in solving “some areas that need immediate attention,” such as the budget, she said.
The Chief of Staff would be a new position, created by Slaughter, the qualifications of which include eight years minimum governmental experience and the ability to make policy recommendations “concerning matters of major importance to the citizens and administration of Port Allen,” according to the ad in the West Side Journal Jan. 17, Jan. 24 and Jan. 31.
Slaughter said she notified city council members via email of her decision to create the position including “descriptions of the position,” but some council members still expressed a desire last Wednesday night to know the job description.
“It’s a new position, one I’m not familiar with,” Councilman R.J. Loupe said. “I’ve been almost thirty years up here [on the council]. The Chief of Staff has always been the mayor.”
Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said, “Reading the essentials functions of the Chief of Staff…the job description looks like it’s something the mayor would do day-to-day.”
Councilman Garry Hubble said over the phone Monday that the Personnel & Finance Committee, of which he is chair, was not involved in the hiring process and the position was advertised without the council’s approval. “We don’t even know who has applied,” he said.
Slaughter said she will “provide more information on all the details of the position” at the Feb. 13 regular council meeting when she recommends a candidate for hire. She said the position will be full-time but has yet to disclose a salary.
Hubble said he doesn’t think the Chief of Staff will happen, as many if not all of the council members are opposed to it, he said, adding: “Unfortunately there is going to be so much continued division in the city.”
Many residents in the audience last Wednesday feared adding a full-time, presumably high-paying position to an already tight budget, saying the city needs to work with the personnel it has.
Resident Bootsie Crochet said, “You’ve got the people here that can help you. I’m like everyone else: why do we need to pay another salary when that job is your responsibilities?”
Slaughter said, “We’ve got problems with the budget. We’ve got problems with the audit,” referring to last month’s findings of the 2011-2012 audit report. In that audit, Brovost, Salter, Harper & Alford LLC recommended greater financial accountability through accounts reconciled monthly and monthly reports to the council.
Slaughter said the city needs to address those issues because with the next audit report, “It’s going to fall on me. It’s not going to fall on anyone out there.”
She said, “It’s not [CFO Audrey McCain’s] fault because of someone that left something behind to her.”
This statement prompted former Chief Financial Officer Claire Sarradet, who served the City of Port Allen for over 32 years, to walk to the podium and clear her name.
“I have remained silent for too long,” she said. “I have read, I have heard insinuations and accusations about me in the newspapers that are totally unfounded.”
“During my tenure there was never, ever any budget issues, any accounting deficiencies,” she said.
“That being said, I am not here to boast. What I am here to do, Mayor, is to offer constructive suggestion to you and to this council,” Sarradet said. “I want to see you succeed. When you succeed, our city succeeds – all of us. And you can succeed. You have the talent right here.”
She reiterated her statement after the meeting, saying the city should utilize its current staff.
During the meeting Riviere suggested a temporary consultant and Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence suggested a part-time position in lieu of a full-time Chief of Staff.
Loupe said he would like the mayor to look at pay raises for existing city employees before hiring a Chief of Staff.
Slaughter said, “I understand it all. I am the mayor and this is what I want and I just appreciate that you all will accept where I’m coming from.”
In other news, the Port Allen Fire Department may be in danger of losing the Class 2 fire protection rating it received in 2007.
Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux announced at the committee meeting last Wednesday that the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana (PIAL) intends to retrograde the city to a Class 3 protection rating.
Boudreaux said Friday that he submitted a plan of corrective action to PIAL and that he is optimistic he will be able to salvage the Class 2 rating within the standard six-month grace period.
Boudreaux said a one-class rating retrograde would not necessarily raise homeowners’ insurance because many insurance policies group fire protection ratings together. In other words, a homeowner might pay the same premium for a Class 2, 3 or 4 fire protection rating. Businesses would be the only ones affected by one-class rating retrogrades, he said.