In October, the Port Allen city council will again take up a salary/department head ordinance, this time to override the mayor’s veto.
Thursday, Sept. 19, Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter vetoed the ordinance setting her salary to nearly $85,000 a year because it contained information declaring department heads.
The ordinance originally passed on Sept. 11 with council members Hugh Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble voting in favor.
Earlier this year, Riviere, Loupe and Hubble voted in favor of a separate ordinance to clarify the city’s department heads, but Slaughter vetoed that ordinance.
Many residents and current and former city officials believe the term “department head” -- mentioned but never clarified in the city’s code of ordinances -- has historically meant one of five positions: Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Chief Administrative Officer, CFO and Public Works Director.
Department heads became an issue earlier this year when Slaughter attempted to fire CFO Audrey McCain without city council approval.
Slaughter maintained that the CFO was not a department head but an “administrative staff position to the mayor.” However, a state judge ruled that McCain is in fact a department head whose hiring and firing is subject to city council approval. He also ruled that McCain, as CFO, is acting as the city’s tax collector, a statutorily mandated position for any Louisiana “Lawrason Act” municipality such as Port Allen.
Slaughter’s explanation for the veto, in a letter to McCain and city council members, is that any creation of department heads requires “written recommendation of the mayor,” according to La. Revised Statute 33:362.
Slaughter also reiterated what she said at the Sept. 11 council meeting, that ordinances “shall contain only one subject” each, according to La. Revised Statute 33:406.
At that meeting, Hubble provided Louisiana case law and an excerpt from the Louisiana Municipal Association handbook stating that “one subject” can actually mean a number of interrelated subjects.
The handbook states, “ ‘Subject’ is given a broad construction to allow the inclusion in one ordinance of all matters having a logical or natural connection.”
Oct. 9 is the next regular council meeting wherein the council needs four out of five votes to override the mayor’s veto. The original vote on the ordinance was 3-2, with city council members Brandon Brown and Ray Helen Lawrence voting in opposition.
On Sept. 19, Slaughter also disapproved a resolution enacted by a majority of the council – Riviere, Loupe and Hubble – for the city council to hire their own legal counsel, Smith Law Firm for a rate of $250 an hour.
The mayor said she has the authority to approve or disapprove any resolution requiring the expenditure of funds previously appropriated, according to La. Revised Statute 33:406.
However, La. Revised Statute 33:406 also states that, “No resolution shall require the signature or other action of the mayor to become effective.”
Fire Department Budget
The city council will also take up the mayor’s proposed budget and the mayor’s proposed fire department budget in October.
The mayor originally presented her budget on June 12, but Riviere, Loupe and Hubble voted no to open the public hearing and the budget was unable to move forward.
On Sept. 11, the mayor re-presented a nearly identical budget.
The proposed 2013-2014 fire department budget is also nearly identical to the one she issued in June, despite Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux’s request that those figures be changed.
On May 16, Boudreaux emailed Slaughter about the upcoming merger of the parish’s fire sub-districts into one parish-wide fire district, and what that might require in terms of the Port Allen fire department’s budget.
Boudreaux said firefighter Mark Travasos “has been doing the job [of Captain] for the past two years,” so he asked the mayor to change Travasos’s pay grade to reflect that position going into the merger.
“The salary is not the significant issue as much as the rank going forward into this merger,” he said. “Please consider my request for inclusion in this fiscal year’s budget.”
According to records obtained via a Louisiana public records request, Slaughter did not respond to that email.
A receipt shows Slaughter read the email 13 minutes after Boudreaux sent it.
Records also show that Boudreaux emailed Slaughter again on June 3, this time referencing “the proposed rank changes we discussed this morning.”
He said he moved Travasos “to Captain range but backed him down three steps” and put two other firefighters in the Captain range but backed them down four steps.”
“This allows for them to have the rank we discussed going into consolidation with the smallest pay increase to burden the budget,” he said.
He said Travasos’s promotion could be done as a regular “component of the budget adoption,” but that the two other promotions required council creation of two Captains positions prior to any budgeting for those positions.
Boudreaux’s proposed salary adjustments for the fire department totaled about $5,500, according to records provided by Boudreaux.
Slaughter’s current budget shows a proposed $545,000 in salaraies and wages for the Fire Department. That number is identical to the one in the budget she proposed on June 12.