The Port Allen City Council will vote on an ordinance in September to set the mayor’s salary at $84,960 a year.
That ordinance, spearheaded by Councilman and Chair of the Personnel and Finance Committee Garry Hubble, also seeks
again to clarify the city’s department heads, a hot-button topic since February, when the mayor attempted to fire the city’s CFO without city council approval.
On May 8, the city council voted 3 to 2 in favor of an ordinance to clarify the city’s department heads, but the mayor vetoed that ordinance and the council was unable to achieve the 4 out of 5 votes needed to override the veto.
A department head provision in the current ordinance, Ordinance No. 6 of 2013, would clarify the city’s CFO, Chief Administrative Officer, Director of Public Works, Fire Chief and Police Chief as department heads. As department heads, those positions would have greater protection from job termination.
City law states that the mayor can hire or fire anyone so long as certain formalities are followed, such as certifying “to the city council that the person who is proposed to be hired meets all of the qualifications for the position to be filled as set out in the applicable job description for employees presently in effect for the city.” However, the mayor cannot hire or fire “the municipal clerk or any department head” without city council approval.
Slaughter also proposed her own ordinance, Ordinance No. 7 of 2013, to set the mayor’s salary at $84,960 a year, the clerk and/or tax collector’s salary (positions often held by the CFO) at $3,600 a year, in addition to setting council members’ and the Police Chief’s salary, but that ordinance did not pass introduction at the Aug. 14 regular city council meeting.
Councilman Brandon Brown wondered why the mayor was backdating the ordinance to Jan. 1, when the Personnel and Finance Committee’s ordinance had an effective date of July 1, the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Brown also thought it unfair to cut the other employees’ pay if the city is not cutting the mayor’s.
“I don’t think anybody deserves a pay cut,” he said.
A copy of Ordinance No. 6 was available in a press packet prior to the Aug. 14 meeting, but a copy of Ordinance No. 7 was not provided until after the meeting.
Council members Brandon Brown and Ray Helen Lawrence voted in favor of the mayor’s ordinance (No. 7), but council members R.J. Loupe, Hugh Riviere and Garry Hubble voted in opposition. The votes were reversed for Ordinance No. 6, with Loupe, Riviere and Hubble voting in favor and Brown and Lawrence voting in opposition.
A city attorney and a city budget are also issues that will arrive during upcoming meetings, the mayor said after the meeting.
The city has been without an attorney and a new budget since the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year on July 1. Council members and members of the community are pushing for a new budget soon because the city only has until Jan. 1, 2014 before state law mandates that a city can no longer operate on the previous fiscal year’s budget.
Slaughter said she has been interviewing attorneys and that she will reintroduce her budget to council members in September.
Slaughter originally presented her 2013-2014 budget to council members at the June 12 regular city council meeting, but council members Loupe, Riviere and Hubble shut down its discussion at a public hearing on June 26.
Loupe said the budget needed to be prepared in conjunction with the city’s CFO, while Riviere claimed the budget was not properly introduced.
At the Aug. 14 meeting, Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence urged the mayor to work with the city’s CFO on a budget for the city.
“The mayor (and) CFO should get together,” Lawrence said. “This is my recommendation: that they come together on it.”
However, the mayor maintains that the holdup lies with the city council.
“My piece of it was done, but the ball still lies in their court,” she said after the meeting.
During the meeting, Chief of Staff Ralph Slaughter stepped to the microphone in an attempt to clarify some questions, legal and otherwise, surrounding the mayor. He said since July 1, the mayor has not received more than $65,000 a year, according to a judge’s mandate that the mayor not exceed the budgeted $65,000 for her salary until the council amends the budget or the mayor obtains a court order forcing the amendment.
The mayor also receives a $400 a month car allowance, but after a Louisiana Legislative Auditor report on June 19 revealed that the mayor was actually receiving $500 a month in car allowance, the mayor put her entire car allowance since Jan. 1 in an escrow account of the city. Now, Ralph Slaughter says, the city owes her money.
Ralph Slaughter’s comments prompted some council members and residents to question his title and job duties within the city.
“Who are you?” Loupe said.
Mayor Slaughter said her brother-in-law doesn’t have access to city computers and that, “He’s working without pay.”
Councilman R.J. Loupe said, “He is not bonded.” For this reason, local business owner Jason Hammack said, “If he does something wrong, it opens up the city to severe liability.”
Councilman Hugh Riviere asked, “What exactly is he doing? ...What is he doing on a day-to-day basis?”
“He’s not doing anything on a day-to-day basis,” the mayor said. “He’s not here on site working.”
Mayor Slaughter also admitted that she has used city funds to pay for her attorney, Ron Johnson, who represented her on July 2 and again on July 31. Eighteenth Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Batiste ruled on July 2 prohibiting the mayor “from paying lawyers with funds belonging to the City of Port Allen…unless and until she has been granted the authority provided in Louisiana Revised Statute 33:386(C).”
Slaughter claimed that since the July 2 ruling, Batiste met with lawyers for both sides and agreed that the mayor could use city funds to pay her attorney.
Attorney J. Arthur Smith III, lead attorney for Loupe, Riviere and Hubble in the July 2 case against the mayor, said Tuesday, “I’m not aware of any such decision or communication.”
At the Aug. 14 meeting, CFO Audrey McCain quoted two amounts that were paid to Johnson, $4,700 and $2,800.
Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence, who is also the Mayor Pro-Tem and has authority to co-sign checks for the city of Port Allen, said in response to the two amounts paid: “My concern has been that I’m signing things and I haven’t quite seen all of the information that the judge ruled.
“But according to the documentation that I was shown from the mayor, there was an approval,” she said. “I requested that this information be turned over to me and the rest of the council…as a review. I have not seen it.”