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Special Meeting Rescheduled

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

Prior to a special budget meeting set for Wednesday, Oct. 23, the city of Port Allen continued to see delays in enacting a 2013-2014 budget and in setting a trial date for the 18th Judicial District Court case involving the mayor versus the city’s CFO.

However, council members say they are ready to enact a budget and attorneys say they are prepared to go to trial.

Budget

The council was slated to vote on the mayor’s proposed 2013-2014 budget at a regular council meeting on Oct. 9, but council members deferred the vote to a special meeting planned for Wednesday, Oct. 16.

City Councilman and Personnel and Finance Committee Chair Garry Hubble said an amended budget prepared by the city’s CFO was distributed to the mayor and council members on that day. The special meeting was accordingly rescheduled; he said, in order to provide council members ample time to review the proposed changes.

“There’s no eleventh-hour surprises or anything,” he said, countering criticism he received from supporters of the mayor on a mayoral salary ordinance he introduced with additional language clarifying which city employees are department heads.

Councilman Brandon Brown confirmed that he received a copy of the amended budget on Oct. 16, but said he is “not a big fan” of the changes.

Hubble hinted that the amendments would limit appropriations to replace the entire fleet of police vehicles under a four-year lease contract, as the mayor proposed in accordance with the police chief’s request.

Brown confirmed the amendment limiting this appropriation, saying the revised budget excludes “the amount (of money) that would be needed to help the police station grow.”

Brown said, “I’m not sure if the city’s interest is our only interest.” He said, “Our focus overall should be a vision to benefit the city,” such as the Smart Growth Master Plan now available for viewing on Portallen.org. Additionally, he accused council members of focusing on “the top 20 percent of Port Allen,” not Port Allen.

Hubble said that he does have the best interests of the city at heart and that the budget with amendments is “a comprehensive, doable budget that’s in the best interests of the city.”

Hubble said the amended budget also includes more detailed salary information.

On Oct. 9, the mayor said she would compromise on some salaries by no longer proposing to lower the CFO’s salary by $40,000 and the CAO’s salary by $20,000.

The mayor provided a list of salaries on Oct. 9 as she did with the June budget but, again, did not provide a requested Excel spreadsheet with breakdowns and schedules of additional costs and benefits associated with those salaries.

Hubble said the amended budget includes an Excel spreadsheet prepared by the CFO.

Hubble also hinted that revenue projections would be much lower in the amended budget. He called the mayor’s projected $20.5 million “way off base.”

“We are no where near that. That was a complete fabrication,” he said.

CFO Audrey McCain emailed the West Side Journal a revenue projection she prepared earlier this year, about $8.4 million, or $645,000 less than the mayor projected.

McCain also projected a slightly larger beginning fund balance, to bring the total estimated funds for the city for 2013-2014 to about $19.9 million, or about $600,000 less than the mayor projected.

The West Side Journal has not yet received a copy of the amended budget.

Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter originally proposed a budget in June, but a majority of the city council rejected its introduction. July 1, the fiscal year began and two months later, on Sept. 11, Slaughter proposed a nearly identical budget.

Since July 1, the city has operated under 50 percent of previous fiscal year appropriations. McCain said the city could potentially operate at full capacity from July 1 for a period of six months.

When asked if the mayor could veto the budget, Hubble said the budget is an ordinance so he presumes the mayor could do that, as she could for any ordinance.

However, if she were to veto the budget, he said Slaughter would be sending the message that she does not want a responsible budget.

Trial

A bench trial for the case involving the mayor versus the city’s CFO is currently “continued without date,” according to a deputy clerk for the WBR Parish Clerk of Court.

However, attorneys for both sides say they are prepared to go to trial.

The two-day trial was originally scheduled for Sept. 19-20 then pushed back to Oct. 17-18 before conflicts with the date and how the judge wanted to proceed with the case arose, one of McCain’s attorneys, Cy J. D’Aquila Jr., said.

D’Aquila said 18th Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Batiste signed an petition on Oct. 4 with some additional causes of action against the mayor, including the request that the mayor “be cast in judgment” for all of McCain’s court costs and attorneys fees, which McCain continues to pay out of pocket.

Instead of having a separate trial for the additional matters, D’Aquila said they decided to push back the trial altogether.

Slaughter’s attorney Ron Johnson said he knows the reason why the trial date was pushed back, but that, “The judge asked me not to say so.”

The trial will ultimately decide whether the mayor is permanently enjoined from unilaterally firing McCain, as she attempted to do in February. Batiste ruled in February that McCain is a department head whose hiring and firing is subject to city council approval.

A telephone conference to select the trial date was scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15 and again on Tuesday, Oct. 22, but D’Aquila said Johnson was “unable to be reached” both days.

D’Aquila said Batiste’s clerk is supposed to provide McCain’s attorneys with a list of potential trial dates in order to select one.

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