PORT ALLEN — Both candidates facing Mayor Roger Bergeron in the Nov. 6 primary election agree the key to re-establishing integrity to Port Allen city government lies in revamping the city’s employment practices.
Retired teacher Kirby Anderson, a Democrat, called for setting up a human resources department to assure more accountability in personnel matters.
ExxonMobil analyst Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter, also a Democrat, said getting a better handle on the city’s hiring and firing practices would dampen some of the tension arising from this summer’s hiring of a new chief administrative officer.
The central figure in the dispute, Adrian Genre, a former Port Allen police chief, was appointed CAO in June with Bergeron’s endorsement and got the job on a 3-2 City Council vote.
Genre’s hiring led to residents accusing Bergeron of racism and split the council’s vote along racial lines.
Genre’s appointment was controversial because he is a convicted felon who pleaded guilty while still police chief to perjury in a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.
Genre admitted to lying in a deposition about the department’s hiring practices in a lawsuit that claimed only black people were given a written test during the Police Department’s interview process. Genre was forced to resign as chief in August 2000.
“It seems to have brought a little racial tension into the community,” Slaughter, 50, said, referring to Genre’s hiring. “I have received feedback from whites and blacks that want to see that settled down or be removed.”
Anderson, 57, said residents now want to see more “equal opportunity” in the city’s hiring practices after the ordeal involving hiring Genre as CAO.
“People don’t forget things like that,” Anderson said. “That didn’t just bring a bad light down on Port Allen, that made national news as well. Port Allen was the joke of the area because of the decisions that were made.”
Genre’s hiring is the only issue drawing fire from Bergeron’s opponents regarding his nearly one-year tenure as mayor.
Bergeron, 64, a Democrat who retired from his job as West Baton Rouge Parish revenue director, won a special election last November to succeed former Mayor Derek Lewis, who resigned in June 2011 facing federal prison time for his involvement in a bribery-racketeering scandal.
Bergeron said in response to his opponents’ criticism of his handling of the Genre issue that while he understands the community’s concerns, he wants people to know Genre already has proven to be “more than competent” as CAO during the three months he’s been on the job.
“I ask that people keep in mind that the job was filled competitively,” Bergeron said. “If you look at his history before the incident and after the incident, there is nothing to worry about — particularly in the black community.
“If you take away that, then I ask my opponents: What would you do differently to run the city?”
On other issues, Anderson said he wants to bridge the gap between schools and the community by implementing a program encouraging more citizen participation in the local school system.
Slaughter, 50, said she hopes, if elected, to network with other mayors to learn how they’ve been able to move their cities forward.
Bergeron said, if re-elected, he would tackle such issues as making curbside recycling feasible for the city, settling the looming battle over distribution of fire sales tax revenue and pushing for completion of the city’s master plan.
“I call it the People’s Project,” he said of the master plan project. “It’s a chance for the public to express their vision of what they think the city should look like in the next 15 years.”
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