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Judge rules after 12-hour hearing

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

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UPDATE- A July 2 court ruling will prohibit Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter from receiving more than $400 a month in car allowance, from continuing to pay her attorneys’ fees with city money unless approved by the city council and from continuing to receive a higher-than-budgeted salary until the city council appropriates more funds or she obtains a court order.

 

The ruling ended nearly 12- hours of proceedings, with testimony from council members, city employees and former city attorney Victor Woods. 18th Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Batiste ordered the hearing after a majority of the city’s council members, Hugh Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble filed a lawsuit against the mayor a week prior, on June 25.

The council members, in a 15-page “Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Restoration of Funds,” alleged unlawful spending of the mayor in a number of areas, including: her salary, her car allowance, her travel expenses to Washington, D.C. and her attorneys’ fees. They also alleged wrongdoing of the mayor in stripping the city’s CFO of online banking access and check writing/signing authority for the city’s accounts with American Gateway Bank.

The council members, represented by J. Arthur Smith and Adrienne Rachel, asked for preliminary injunctions prohibiting the mayor, represented by Ron Johnson, from such actions. They alleged that “payments to the Defendant or for the benefit of the Defendant” violated at least one state law, Louisiana revised statute 42:1461, which states that elected or appointed officials “assume a personal obligation not to misappropriate, misapply, convert, misuse, or otherwise wrongfully take any funds, property or other thing of value belonging to or under the custody or control of the public entity in which they hold office or are employed.”

Just after 9 p.m. on July 2, Batiste began his ruling with a reference to the Gettysburg Address, saying that the U.S. is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” He said officials swear to abide by the Constitution and laws of the U.S. but with the mayor of Port Allen, there has been a “lapse in that.”

Batiste ruled, “That the mayor follow and perform all the duties required by statute and by ordinance.”

He ruled that the council did not follow proper procedure in June 2012 when they reduced the salary of the mayor via a line item in the 2012-2013 budget. He said he would grant a preliminary injunction preventing the mayor from receiving more of a salary than what was budgeted, but said the council needs to appropriate more funds or the mayor may obtain a court order to make sure she is paid that of her predecessor.

As of May 24, budgeted funds for the mayor’s salary ran out, according to CFO Audrey McCain. Court proceedings revealed that about $72,000 was budgeted for the mayor’s salary for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. That amount was to be split six months according to the former mayor’s salary (about $85,000 a year) and six months according to a lower salary for the incoming mayor ($65,000 a year).

Batiste said he would not grant a preliminary injunction restoring McCain’s online banking access, unless that access is provided by ordinance.

He issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the mayor from receiving more in car allowance than the $4,800 a year that was recently approved by the council. He said the extra $100 a month Slaughter has received since she took office in January could be deducted from future car allowances or repaid to the city, as determined by the council.

Finally, he said each party is responsible for paying their own court costs for the July 2 proceedings. He further prohibited the mayor from paying any attorneys with city money, unless approved by the city council to do so.

Court proceedings revealed a $3,461.95 city check dated May 23 and made out to Phelps Dunbar law firm, the firm which represents the mayor in the ongoing case between her and McCain, whom she attempted to fire in February. Slaughter and Mayor Pro-Tem Ray Helen Lawrence signed the check but McCain and CAO Adrian Genre testified that there was no invoice, which should have preceded the check and detailed its necessity.

The city council did not approve the over $3,000 check, nor any amount for the mayor’s attorneys. At the June 12 city council meeting, the council adopted a resolution 3-1-1 to deny funding for the mayor’s legal expenses, which the resolution states were “not specifically authorized and approved by the city council.”

According to the July 2 court proceedings, $20,000 was budgeted in the 2012-2013 general fund for legal expenses, to include the city attorney’s salary. Woods said June 12 he billed the city about $10,000 in 2012 and that for the 2012-2013 fiscal year he was asking for about $11,000 to $12,000.

Johnson, said, “The mayor has not taken any funds that didn’t belong to her.”

Johnson made a motion to dismiss the case, when he argued that Riviere, Loupe and Hubble, a majority of the city’s council members, were in violation of the Louisiana open meetings law by filing the lawsuit together. Riviere and Hubble testified that only two of them met at a time.

Johnson said because they had filed in their official capacities as council members, in addition to their individual capacities, they needed the formal approval of the city council.

Batiste denied Johnson’s motion to dismiss, saying the council members “do have proper standing.”

Slaughter was not present July 2, even though Batiste ordered her to “appear and show cause” before the court. Batiste allowed Johnson to represent her, saying, “I think that’s all that’s necessary,” but he mentioned her absence in his ruling.

Smith, lead attorney for the council members, said, “We should presume that her testimony would have been unfavorable.” He said the mayor has “got to follow the rules” and that if she spends money, “she needs to spend it with the approval of the council.”

Johnson said after the hearing that Slaughter was attending to city business. “She was not required to be here,” he said.

Her husband, Ronnie Slaughter, and her brother-in-law, Ralph Slaughter, were present for the proceedings.

Johnson said the mayor is prepared to follow “all the laws and regulations and rules imposed on her by law. She is prepared to meet with each and every councilperson to see what she can do to move this city forward,” and “to make relationships between the executive branch and the legislative branch.”

Batiste asked for a written judgment of his ruling within 10 days that he said he will sign.

During the course of proceedings July 2, Batiste also signed a written order of the preliminary injunction he issued against the mayor in February.

That order mandates that Slaughter, “in her personal capacity as well as her Official Capacity as the Mayor of the City of Port Allen, and any of her agents, employees, or representatives, are hereby enjoined and prohibited from terminating Plaintiff Audrey McCain from her positions as department head, Chief Financial Officer and City Clerk of the City of Port Allen,” without the approval of the city council.

Slaughter and any of her agents, employees or representatives are also prohibited from interfering with the performance of McCain’s job duties. The order lists extensively McCain’s job duties per the Louisiana Lawrason Act and Port Allen Code of Ordinances, including “maintaining all records and papers regarding the business of the city” and maintaining “records of accounts of each particular fund of the city and the accounts of each city officer.”

The McCain v. Slaughter hearings will resume July 31 at 9 a.m.

 

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