PORT ALLEN — Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere on Tuesday described as “a misappropriation of funds” Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s actions in boosting her salary from $65,000 to $84,960 annually by setting aside a City Council budget decision on the issue.
After the mayor upped her salary by about $20,000 a year shortly after she took office in January, city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain disclosed that Slaughter’s pay increase would deplete by early May two of the operating funds supporting city administrative salaries, including Slaughter’s.
The original proposal to reduce the mayor’s salary was presented to the council by then-Mayor Roger Bergeron in June.
“The money is not there for her to get paid,” Riviere said Tuesday, while also disputing previously reported comments made by City Attorney Victor Woods, who asserted it took more than just the City Council’s vote to approve its 2012 fiscal year budget to lower the mayor’s salary as Bergeron had requested.
In his Jan. 8 opinion on the salary issue submitted to Slaughter, Woods said the mayor’s salary had to be reduced by adoption of a specific ordinance detailing the proposed reduction, not by trying to achieve that end by changing the salary amount as listed in the city budget. The mayor’s annual pay rate must remain at $84,960 because the council approved no ordinance cutting it to $65,000, Woods reasoned.
Woods had maintained previously that he had advised city leaders at the time the council and administration were discussing the 2013 fiscal year budget that the mayor’s salary couldn’t be lowered just by adopting a new budget.
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the 2013 fiscal year budget at its June 13 meeting.
Riviere said Tuesday, however, that Woods asked during deliberations on the 2013 budget only that the mayor’s new, reduced salary amount, along with the date it was to take effect, be written into the 2013 budget.
Riviere’s account of Woods’ statements during the 2013 budget negotiations was verified by an audio recording of the June 13, 2012, council meeting The Advocate obtained from City Hall on Tuesday.
In the recording, Woods did ask Mayor Bergeron to clearly state in the budget ordinance that the lower salary rate was to take effect as of midnight on Jan. 1, 2013.
“We need to state this is to (be) commensurate with the new term of the mayor,” Woods said in the recording. “If that person gets the back salary for even a half an hour, there is an argument, per se, that they should get the full salary.”
Woods said Tuesday he hadn’t listened to the audio recording but stands by his legal opinion.
“I didn’t know how it had to be done because I wasn’t asked prior to the meeting,” Woods said. “When we came to that meeting, no one informed me that was something they wanted to do.”
Riviere also said he does not agree with Woods’ legal opinion provided to Slaughter shortly after she took office in January. Riviere said the council is granted authority to set salaries of city administration members by ordinance based on powers delegated to the council in the Lawrason Act.
“From my experience, it’s a line-item budget that is adopted in its entirety,” he said.
Riviere said Bergeron asked the council to consider lowering the mayor’s salary after he determined that mayors in cities comparable in size to Port Allen were earning, on average, approximately $61,000 annually.
Because state law prohibited the council from decreasing an elected official’s salary during that official’s term in office, Riviere said, the new salary rate would have to take effect after Bergeron’s term ended on Dec. 31.
Slaughter, who defeated Bergeron in the Dec. 8 election, said on Feb. 26 as the dispute over her pay raise unfolded, that if adjustments are needed to keep the city’s budget balanced in view of the two funds in danger of being depleted due to the pay increase, she will raise the issue with the City Council.
“I was under the impression that everything was already taken care of,” Slaughter had said.
“The only way we can fix this now is by the mayor coming to the council to ask for a budget adjustment,” Riviere agreed Tuesday. “My thought right now is I won’t vote for an amendment because the salary was set by law when we voted to approve the budget.”
Garry Hubble, chairman of the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee, also said he wouldn’t support any proposed salary amendment offered by Slaughter because she made the original decision to increase her pay in January without consulting the council.
“You have protocol that must be followed,” Hubble said.
Councilman R.J. Loupe would not say Tuesday how he would vote on a possible budget amendment addressing the mayor’s rate of pay.
However, Loupe did say, “I’m not going to vote for anything until our city employees get a raise first. They’re hurting.”