Port Allen committees try to address issues
PORT ALLEN — It was the elephant in the room Wednesday night: the vacant chair where Port Allen’s mayor normally sits among the five-member City Council.
Wednesday was the first time the council held committee meetings without former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter, who vacated the office Nov. 25 following a recall election.
On Nov. 16, 57 percent of the city’s residents who voted in the recall election cast their ballots in favor of removing the controversial mayor from office.
During Slaughter’s 11-month tenure in City Hall, council meetings had became contentious, twice-monthly affairs.
Accusations of racism were flung at the council’s three white members and there were frequent emotionally charged outbursts among audience members on opposite sides of the recall effort.
Things appeared as if they had settled down as Wednesday night’s meeting began, but turned sour when Nikisha Joseph, a Slaughter supporter attending the meeting, fired off a laundry list of questions to each council member about some of the actions and decisions they made when Slaughter was mayor.
The comments came shortly after Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Ray Helen Lawrence pitched to the audience her efforts to put together a Christmas festival in downtown Port Allen she said she hopes will help the community heal.
Lawrence is temporarily serving as interim mayor until the City Council appoints someone.
“We’re trying to heal from all this turmoil we’ve have for the past several months,” Lawrence said. “It will probably take awhile (but) I think it will show we’re making a concerted effort to try and move this community forward.”
Joseph’s questions to council members revisited several controversial issues that drove the recall effort against Slaughter.
Joseph criticized Councilman at-large R.J. Loupe for not supporting Slaughter’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget proposal.
She pointed to comments Loupe had made previously that he did not support Slaughter’s budget proposal because the mayor had not met with the city’s chief financial officer and city government department heads to discuss it with them.
“I recall you not meeting with the citizens you represent this past summer after your presence was requested through verbal phone calls as well as certified letters,” Joseph told Loupe. “So when you questioned the mayor about not meeting with someone you should have also questioned yourself.”
Joseph also grilled Councilman Garry Hubble about statements he made to the media regarding his intention to rehire five former city employees who quit under Slaughter’s administration because they said the mayor had created a hostile work environment.
Joseph asked Hubble how he planned to rehire the former employees that worked in the utility department since Slaughter filled the positions after they left.
“Have you thought about possible lawsuits that might occur from wrongful termination?” she asked.
Hubble replied that he had.
“The whole issue needs to be discussed,” Hubble said. “I don’t believe the proper hiring protocol was followed.”
Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said Slaughter needed approval to advertise the vacancies before filling them.
“You have to advertise positions for three consecutive weeks,” he said. “We authorized a hire for one utility clerk, but the mayor went around our backs and hired a personal assistant for herself.”
Lawrence, the interim mayor, suggested there already was a hostile work environment in the utility department before Slaughter took office.
Loupe countered, “I spoke with all five employees and they said they were not being treated right. They said they couldn’t work in that environment anymore.”
In response to Joseph’s question regarding his opposition to Slaughter’s budget, Loupe said, “The mayor has always met with the CFO to work on the budget. If you don’t meet with the CFO and department heads, I’m not going to approve a budget.”
The City Council will hold its regular meeting Wednesday, Dec. 11.
After Wednesday night’s meeting, Riviere said he would like council members to start tossing around names of people for the interim mayor spot.
State law mandates the council appoint an interim mayor within 20 days.
If council members can’t agree on an appointment by Dec. 15, state law says the governor will step in and make the appointment.
In the meantime, Chief Administrative Officer Adrian Genre said Lawrence has been communicating effectively with office staff and administrative officials in City Hall since stepping in as interim mayor.
“The level of stress has been greatly reduced,” Genre said about the atmosphere at City Hall since Slaughter’s departure. “There seems to be much more of a willingness for employees and department heads to communicate with each other.”