PORT ALLEN — Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter told City Council members Wednesday night that she plans to appoint Ralph Slaughter, former president of the Southern University System, as her administration’s chief of staff.
The move follows her recent firing of the city’s chief financial officer.
But a majority of council members made it clear they wouldn’t support creation of a chief of staff job because of pending litigation against the mayor they also learned about during Wednesday night’s regular meeting.
In a prepared statement the mayor read to the council and dozens of city residents jammed into the council chambers, the mayor said creating the chief of staff position was an “emergency situation” she deemed necessary following a recent audit report that uncovered several weaknesses within the city’s accounting practices.
Slaughter used the audit’s findings as grounds to fire city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain on Monday.
The mayor said Ralph Slaughter, who is her brother-in-law, has the “extensive governmental accounting, auditing and executive management experience to correct” the deficiencies noted in the audit report.
The mayor declared Ralph Slaughter’s appointment would be legal under state law because he’s not an immediate member of her family.
The mayor’s move to bring Ralph Slaughter into city government drew a wave of gasps from audience members.
One of them said she was “offended” by the decision because Ralph Slaughter “couldn’t even run the finances of Southern.”
Ralph Slaughter was ousted from the Southern University System in 2009 after his two-year employment contract was not renewed by the Southern Board of Supervisors.
A U.S. District Court judge ordered the former university president in August to repay $275,000 to the school’s private fundraising arm for “prohibited transactions” he made with the foundation’s money — such as paying his legal fees and moving expenses after he was ousted from the presidency.
Ralph Slaughter has lawsuits pending in state and federal courts for retaliation and wrongful termination by the Southern board.
But City Council members opposed to the mayor’s appointment of Ralph Slaughter expressed numerous concerns in regard to the chief of staff position.
Councilman Garry Hubble, chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, said Mayor Slaughter didn’t have the authority to make such an appointment because the council hadn’t appropriated any money to pay an appointee’s salary.
Slaughter did not assign a dollar amount for the chief of staff salary during the meeting. She said that would have to be discussed during a special meeting to be held in the near future.
Councilman R.J. Loupe told the mayor he’s not supporting any new hires until all city
employees are given pay raises.
Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere added, “I don’t think the hiring procedure was followed correctly. You didn’t consult the Personnel Committee about a job opening. We’re learning about this job tonight. We haven’t seen applications or résumés.”
Slaughter retorted, “This is an administrative position. It does not require a vote of the council. Any vote would diminish the power of the mayor.”
Riviere tried to end the discussion by saying he didn’t see the need to move forward with creating the position because of the pending litigation surrounding McCain’s firing.
During the council meeting, Pointe Coupee Parish attorney Cy D’Aquila told the council he had filed an injunction earlier Wednesday in 18th Judicial District Court on McCain’s behalf to temporarily reinstate her employment with the city.
“She’ll be back at work at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” D’Aquila told city officials. “She cannot be solely removed at your discretion. It has to go before the council for approval.”
D’Aquila asserted the mayor didn’t have the authority to fire McCain because McCain was a department head within the city administration.
But City Attorney Victor Woods told D’Aquila that department heads within the city administration must be created through city ordinance, which the city had not done in McCain’s case.
“She’s not a department head because there’s no statute that created the department,” Woods said. “Clearly the mayor has the authority to terminate her.”
However, Woods added that McCain still retained her title as the city’s municipal clerk, a position that was folded into her duties as chief financial officer.
Woods said state law doesn’t give the mayor the authority to remove McCain from the clerk position.
“The issue is whether the CFO is a department head and that obviously will be a legal matter decided in the courts,” Woods said to D’Aquila. “I think she needs to respect the law and not create any friction until this is decided by the courts.”
D’Aquila said he expects a judge to rule on the injunction Thursday morning.
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