UPDATED-In light of Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s recent cancellation of an SUV ordered for the fire department against state contract, many Port Allen officials fear the city could lose its buying power on future state-contracted vehicles. However, Slaughter said the city is in no jeopardy of losing that buying power because the purchase order for the vehicle wasn’t valid to begin with.
Tuesday, April 9, Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter issued a statement saying there was no breach of contract for a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe she cancelled prior to delivery of the vehicle because the “contract,” or purchase order, was not valid in the first place.
“[It] was not signed by the former Mayor Bergeron so it is not a valid contract, it was signed by a city staffer who is not bonded nor authorized to sign contracts,” she said, referring to Chief Administrative Officer Adrian Genre.
Though the mayor does not sign purchase orders, Genre said, “Mayor Bergeron did approve this purchase.”
Genre said he is “the chief purchasing agent for the city,” pursuant to job descriptions approved by the council in 1994 under then-mayor Lynn Robertson. One of those duties is that the CAO “processes and authorizes purchase orders; purchases supplies, services and equipment for all City departments.”
He said he prepares purchase orders on a daily basis, from pencils to SUVs, and that the council approves the budget, he issues the purchase orders and the mayor signs the checks.
Genre said the state has a contract with Gerry Lane Chevrolet this year, so the city, as a participating entity of the state’s cooperative purchasing agreement, merely issues a purchase order in accordance with that contract.
According to the Louisiana Division of Administration, Office of Purchasing website, “Louisiana Revised Statutes 39:1701, et. seq., provides that eligible political subdivisions and private procurement units of the State of Louisiana may be permitted to place orders against certain statewide contracts administered by the Office of State Purchasing.”
The Office of Purchasing’s website confirms that the contract for 2013 Chevrolet Tahoes is between the state and Gerry Lane Chevrolet, effective Oct. 20, 2012 to Aug. 31, 2013.
Under the state’s cooperative purchasing agreement, it is the “exclusive obligation” of a local public procurement unit, such as Port Allen, to pay for supplies or services ordered under state contracts and to accept those supplies or services, according to the Office of State Purchasing “Purchasing Rules and Regulations.”
The regulations also state, “the state may terminate the [cooperative purchasing] agreement for failure of the local public procurement unit to comply with the terms of the contract or pay a contractor to whom the state has awarded an open-ended contract.”
Gerry Lane Fleet Manager Eric Meyers warned Genre of the possible implications of not paying for the vehicle in a March 28 email, obtained via a public records request. He said, “Please advise as to when you will be picking it up [the 2013 Tahoe] with a check as per the conditions of the state contract. Failure to pay promptly could result in suspension from future purchases by the City of Port Allen on state contract.”
As early as Wednesday, March 27, Slaughter expressed a desire to cancel the purchase order.
Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux said in a March 27 email to Slaughter, “I have never been in a situation in my 13 years as fire chief where the city has defaulted on a valid purchase order upon delivery.” He continued, “As I advised you, there is case law that mandates that we pay debt that is legally incurred by an agent of the City.”
Slaughter reportedly refused to sign the check Monday, April 1, and Wednesday, April 3 at 10:35 a.m., Genre cancelled the purchase order “per my instructions from Mayor Slaughter,” he said in an email to Meyers.
“On behalf of Chief Boudreaux and myself,” he said, “I apologize to you [Meyers] and Gerry Lane for this action. We acknowledge and recognize that this cancellation represents a breach of contract and can only hope that future orders will be considered.”
Meyers said in a phone interview Tuesday, every year there’s at least one or two municipalities who default on a purchase. “I just sell it to somebody else, it’s not a big deal,” he said.
Slaughter has said her reason for cancelling the purchase order was that she was blindsided by the purchase. At the April 10 city council meeting, she said, ”When the check was presented to me, the document was quoted as purchasing a ‘fire apparatus.’” She said at a previous meeting she thought the term “apparatus” meant a part for a vehicle.
According to the 2012-2013 budget for the Port Allen Fire Department, $30,000 was requested under the account, “Firefighting vehicles and apparatus,” for the line item, “replace Utility 33; Fire Chief’s Vehicle.”
The mayor claims Genre did not supply her with information she requested on the SUV, such as meeting minutes where the vehicle was approved, but Genre said that is because the vehicle is not in the minutes. It is in the budget. He said he provided the mayor with a copy of the 2012-2013 budget for the Port Allen Fire Department, where it reads: “Firefighting vehicles and apparatus -- replace Utility 33; Fire Chief’s Vehicle” at a budgeted $30,000.
All 2012-2013 budgets were approved by the council in June 2012.
Genre said he also provided Slaughter with a copy of the purchase order, totaled at $29,372.22 and stating, “new truck for chief.”
Boudreaux said he currently drives a 2005 SUV. Councilman R.J. Loupe said the old vehicle was going to be used elsewhere in the department, specifically, for the fire inspector.
Loupe said in regards to the canceled purchase order, “I feel like it’s punishment to you [Boudreaux] and your department and I’m sorry.”
Slaughter has also claimed she did not receive adequate transition from former mayor Roger Bergeron.
Bergeron said at the meeting, “That’s probably mostly true. But I want to recall back. It was in late-mid December, we had an exit conference with the auditors, and at the very end of that conference...I made a statement to you that if you ever have any questions, or feel like I could help you in any way, please call me. Do you remember that statement?”
“I remember that,” Slaughter said.
Bergeron also said before he left office he left a copy of a four-page letter alerting the incoming mayor of issues facing the city “which left unattended will contribute negatively to the city’s overall financial health.”
Slaughter said, “I recall you having that letter.”
Bergeron said, “So I think I at least made an honest effort to affect some sort of transition. Maybe not the best, but I was open to helping you.”
Resident Bootsie Crochet said she wrote a letter to Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence asking her to remind the mayor, ‘There is no I in team,’ a mantra Lawrence frequently employs at council meetings.
Crochet said, “I pointed out to her [Lawrence] a couple of occasions when issues came up and when the council questioned the mayor, her comment was, ‘I am the mayor, and I can.’ And we have heard that. All of you have heard that these past few months.”
Loupe asked Slaughter if she would reconsider the purchase. Slaughter said she would not because she directed $14,000 of the money intended for the Tahoe to emergency repairs for fire engine 36.
He asked if she would consider the item in next year’s budget. “I will have to give some consideration to that,” she said.
Slaughter finally asked during the meeting that anyt ime a council member places an item placed on the agenda, “please discuss that with me first.”
“If not,” she said. “I’m going to ask that those items be removed.”