Judge rules in councilmen’s lawsuit against Port Allen mayor

A state district judge ruled Tuesday night that the Port Allen City Council did not follow proper procedures while reducing the mayor’s salary by $20,000 a year at the time it adopted its 2012-13 fiscal year budget.

Judge Alvin Batiste held that the five-member council should have lowered the mayor’s salary from $84,960 to $65,000 a year by adopting an ordinance specifically fixing the position’s salary at the reduced annual rate.

The judge’s decisions came after nearly 12 hours of testimony from city officials during a court hearing on a lawsuit filed by Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble against Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter.

The councilmen filed the lawsuit in 18th Judicial District Court on June 25, asserting Slaughter exceeded her executive powers of “supervision and direction” in municipal affairs and arguing that Slaughter has been making illegal financial transactions with taxpayers’ money.

Slaughter did not appear in court Tuesday, despite a request in the lawsuit that she attend the proceedings.

Ronald Johnson, the mayor’s attorney, argued that Slaughter’s presence was not required in a civil matter.

“I’m here representing the mayor,” Johnson told the judge.

“The court finds it odd the mayor would choose not to be present,” Batiste said from the bench later in the proceedings.

Batiste handed down his ruling at around 9:15 p.m., granting the councilmen a preliminary injunction against Slaughter for violating the budget ordinance that reduced the mayor’s salary from $84,960 to $65,000 annually beginning Jan. 1 in the city’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget.

The judge said the preliminary injunction will remain in place until either the city’s budget is properly amended to reflect the salary of the mayor before the 2012-13 budget was adopted by the City Council on June 13, 2012, or until the mayor obtains an order from the court to restore the salary to $84,960 a year.

Batiste granted the councilmen a preliminary injunction against the mayor blocking Slaughter from using any more taxpayer money without City Council approval to pay outside attorneys to represent her in pending litigation.

Slaughter has been locked in a heated legal battle with city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain following Slaughter’s attempt in February to fire McCain.

The councilmen argued in their lawsuit that Slaughter paid more than $3,400 to the Phelps Dunbar law firm to represent her in lawsuits with McCain.

Batiste issued another injunction Tuesday prohibiting the mayor from collecting any funds exceeding $400 a month for her an annual car allowance.

The councilmen claimed in their lawsuit that Slaughter had violated the 2012 budget ordinance because she told city personnel to pay her a $6,000 annual car allowance, even though the council previously set the allowance at $4,800 a year in the 2012-13 budget.

The judge further ordered Slaughter to refund the city any excess unbudgeted funds she was paid since she took office on Jan. 1 or that the additional funds be deducted from any future payments to Slaughter for her car allowance.

Slaughter also was ordered by the court to “follow and perform” all duties required of her by state and local ordinances.

However, the judge denied the councilmen’s request for a restraining order to prevent the mayor from denying McCain access to the city’s bank accounts and stripping her of authority to make city financial transactions.

McCain testified during the hearing that she couldn’t effectively do her job without access to the city’s bank accounts.

Batiste ruled that the council would need to adopt an ordinance to reverse Slaughter’s actions in regard to cutting off McCain’s access to city fiscal matters.

The councilmen also had asked the court to order Slaughter to refund the $2,400 she charged taxpayers for her trip to Washington, D.C., to attend President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

But the judge made no ruling Tuesday night regarding the D.C. trip.