St. Tammany Parish coroner slapped by recall effort

St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan and his lavish spending have been the target of investigation, public outrage and a Parish Council resolution asking him to resign, but now the embattled elected official is the target of a legal effort by voters to oust him themselves.

Rick Franzo, of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, filed paperwork with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday, launching a recall campaign that must get 53,000 registered voters’ signatures in 180 days to force a new election.

Since the coroner is elected, not appointed, that’s the only way to replace him before his term expires in three years. The Parish Council passed a resolution in early March asking him to step down, but he has not responded to that request.

Concerned Citizens of Lacombe and the larger umbrella organization that grew from that group both voted later that same month to pursue a recall. At that time, Franzo called it as “daunting task.”

The activist groups, which have doubled in size since the coroner’s spending practices came to light, are clearly drawing on widespread outrage over inflated salaries — $200,000 for Galvan himself — credit card spending and the coroner’s decision to pay himself for accrued vacation.

But if anger is the driving force, a cool-headed sophistication is also at work. On Thursday, the organizers expect a spate of elected officials to sign the petition, said Dan Ferrari, a member of the Lacombe group’s board.

Saturday, they’ve planned a launch event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Passionate Platter in Olde Towne Slidell. They’ve secured a permit to close the street and will have multiple tables set up, Franzo said.

By May 25, the drive will have about a dozen physical locations set up where people can come sign the petition with plans to expand to as many as 20 spots.

“We wanted to make sure that we had everything in place before we actually did it,” he said, noting that the 30 people are serving on the recall committee alone.

“People have to demand more of our elected officials,” Franzo said. “We have to make sure that they are good stewards, not only of the public trust but good stewards of our tax dollars.”

If the drive succeeds, he said, it will send a message statewide that voters will tolerate nothing less.

While activists are mounting one challenge, a St. Tammany lawmaker is making a run at the coroner by chipping away at his financial independence.

House Bill 561 by Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, calls for the parish to collect revenue generated by a property tax for the Coroner’s Office and also requires the coroner to transfer all funds on hand from that tax to the parish except for the amount needed to operate the office for the remainder of the calendar year — with that amount to be determined by the parish finance department.

St. Tammany voters approved the 4-mill tax in 2004; it has since been rolled back to 3.38 mills.

The Parish Council has indicated publicly that it plans to roll the millage back even further, once it determines how much money is needed to operate the office and satisfy its debt obligations.

The House has already approved Burns’ bill, which is now pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.