Port Allen City Council gets heated after CFO firing, chief-of-staff discussion
A hearing set for Wednesday, Feb. 20 will determine whether a temporary restraining order issued against Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter will remain in place for a longer period of time.
Judge Alvin Batiste of the 18th Judicial District Court granted a temporary restraining order Thursday, Feb. 14 preventing Slaughter “from taking any adverse employment action” against city official Audrey McCain in her positions as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and municipal clerk.
Monday, Feb. 11, Slaughter terminated McCain as CFO and said she would not be reappointing her as clerk.
Two days later, at the Wednesday, Feb. 13 council meeting, City Attorney Victor Woods determined that McCain is still the municipal clerk, absent the council voting to appoint a new clerk.
However, Woods said Slaughter was in her legal right to fire McCain as CFO.
According to city ordinance, the mayor’s hiring of a municipal clerk or department head is “subject to approval of the city council.” The mayor may fire any employee except the municipal clerk or a department head, which “must be approved by the city council.”
Woods said CFO is not a department head, making Slaughter’s firing of McCain legal. “She’s not a department head because there’s no statutorily created department,” he said.
One of McCain’s attorneys, Cy J. D’Aquila Jr. of New Roads, said, “Even though you didn’t create an ordinance that said, ‘Chief Financial Officer is a department head,’ they still operated as though it was a department head.”
D’Aquila said McCain was hired with council approval, thereby making it unlawful for the mayor to fire her.
“She …may not be removed solely at your discretion,” he said.
Slaughter said she fired McCain “based on my review of her office, including significant internal control weaknesses and deficiencies that have existed since she took office in October 2011.”
Previous mayor Roger Bergeron said in a phone interview: there was no fraud or misappropriation of funds and, “The mistakes cited in the (2011-2012) audit were certainly correctable.”
D’Aquila said Wednesday, Feb. 13 he filed a temporary restraining order against the mayor and vowed McCain would return to work the following morning.
He said Thursday, Feb. 14 that when McCain returned to work that morning, she was not allowed in her normal office nor given access to a computer.
D’Aquila said a hearing is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the courthouse in Port Allen. He and fellow attorney Seth Dornier are working on the case, he said.
Meanwhile, the council must also decide on funding for a new Chief of Staff position.
Wednesday night Slaughter announced she was appointing her brother-in-law, Ralph Slaughter, as Chief of Staff.
Slaughter did not seek council approval.
“This is an administrative matter,” she said. “It’s not something that can be approved by the council.”
She continued, “A vote would limit the power of the mayor.”
“Do we need to abolish the personnel committee?” Councilman and Chair of the Personnel and Finance Committee Garry Hubble said.
Slaughter said she created the position out of “emergency” in order to correct certain findings of the city’s 2011-2012 financial audit.
Deedy said the city only has three months until the fiscal year’s end on June 30 and that, “When we get our house in order, we will reevaluate the need for the Chief of Staff position.”
Ralph is currently a consultant and was most recently President of the Southern University System.
According to his resume, he has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from Southern University, a Master’s in Public Administration from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Management from Southern University. He is also a Certified Public Accountant.
Slaughter has stated that there were six applicants for the position, but at the time of the meeting, Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said he had yet to see any resumes or applications.
Slaughter maintained that the Chief of Staff, like the CFO, is not a department head; therefore, the mayor alone has the power to hire and fire.
Slaughter announced the pay grade for Chief of Staff as 124, steps Q through W, but did not state a specific amount.
124 is the same pay grade enjoyed by the CFO/Municipal Clerk and the Chief Administrative Officer/Deputy Municipal Clerk, according to a pay grade designation chart.
Slaughter said her appointment of her brother-in-law is legal because he is “not a member of my immediate family.”
According to the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, Part II, section 1119. Nepotism, “No member of the immediate family of a member of a governing authority or the chief executive of a governmental entity shall be employed by the governmental entity.”
Ralph said he is Slaughter’s husband’s brother; therefore, under the Code of Governmental Ethics, he is not considered immediate family. The code only considers one’s spouse or parents of one’s spouse as immediate family.
Hubble inquired about checks and balances at the council meeting, to which Woods replied, “The mayor has the right to hire employees, but you all control the budget.”
Slaughter agreed to hold a special meeting to discuss funding for the Chief of Staff position, a meeting where some council members vow they will prevent the position from being funded.
“I’m not prepared to make a budget amendment of any kind,” Riviere said.
Slaughter said in a telephone interview Tuesday that she and the council have not yet met in regards to Chief of Staff and that she doesn’t know when they will meet. She said Wednesday’s hearing and the CFO matter will take precedent.
When asked when Ralph will assume his duties as Chief of Staff, Slaughter said, “I can’t answer that question right now.”
In other news, Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown recommended two police officers and three police officer trainees for hire at last Wednesday’s council meeting.
The council unanimously approved Brown’s recommendations.
Riviere said the two police officers, David Johnson and Joshua Jordon, will begin patrols immediately.
“We were already short. It was costing us a lot of overtime,” Brown said.