Appointment of interim mayor in Port Allen remains in limbo

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Port Allen Mayor Pro Tem Ray Helen Lawrence discusses an agenda point during the  City Council meeting on Wednesday in City Hall.  The council went into executive session to discuss, with legal council, the status of pending litigation, Robin A. Ackerman vs. City of Port Allen. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Port Allen Mayor Pro Tem Ray Helen Lawrence discusses an agenda point during the City Council meeting on Wednesday in City Hall. The council went into executive session to discuss, with legal council, the status of pending litigation, Robin A. Ackerman vs. City of Port Allen.

The City Council agreed on the majority of its agenda items Wednesday, but avoided discussing the contentious issue of who should temporarily run city government in the wake of former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s recall.

Slaughter left office Nov. 25, and the council is under a 20-day deadline to appoint an interim mayor for Port Allen.

Mayor Pro Tem Ray Helen Lawrence, the council member designated to act as mayor in the mayor’s absence, has been serving as acting mayor pending the appointment of an interim. In that position, she does not hold the full powers of the mayor.

At least two former public officials say they have been approached by city leaders about the interim position: former Mayor Lynn Robertson and former West Baton Rouge Parish President Ted Denstel.

Lawrence said previously that her constituents also have asked her to consider taking the interim spot.

In interviews earlier this week, council members expressed differing views on who the council should appoint.

Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said that discouraged city leaders from taking up the topic at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“We still haven’t come to an agreement on it so I didn’t see a point in trying to bring it up,” Riviere said after Wednesday night’s meeting.

The council’s 20-day deadline officially ends Sunday.

Since that final day falls on a non-business day, city officials said Wednesday the council has until 4:30 p.m. Monday to make the appointment.

Should the council allow the 20-day deadline to lapse, state law passes the decision on naming an interim mayor to the governor.

Port Allen resident Ray Stumbo urged the council Wednesday night to make the appointment instead of leaving it to fall to the governor.

“In my opinion, we need to keep the governor out the process,” Stumbo said. “(Y’all) need to unanimously get behind an interim mayor. Black, white, brown or yellow shouldn’t make a difference as long as he or she had the credentials.”

The urgency for appointment an interim mayor is amplified by the city’s need of a 2013-14 budget.

State law requires the mayor, or someone with the mayor’s authority, to submit a proposed spending plan to the City Council for consideration and approval.

Lawrence, as only acting mayor, does not have the full powers of the mayor.

The City Council is nearly six months late approving a new spending plan due to past strife between Slaughter and members of the council.

The council attempted in November to adopt a budget but it was vetoed by Slaughter a week before the recall election.

Since July 1 the city has been operating on 50 percent of the revenue from its 2012-13 budget.

“I’m not biting my nails on it really because the people involved in the day-to-day operations of the city say we’re fine,” Councilman Garry Hubble said after the meeting Wednesday.

Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain said the city could probably limp into early January on the 2012-13 revenue without having to shut down City Hall.

“We’ve been holding on,” McCain said before Wednesday night’s meeting. “The utility bills are being paid. Employee salaries are going to be OK. Now, once we get into the middle of January we have bigger problems.”

After the budget is introduced, the city is required by state law to allow a 10-day period for public review followed by at least one public hearing.

State law does not place a time deadline on the governor to appoint an interim mayor.

However, McCain said, if the Governor’s Office names an interim mayor by early next week, the City Council likely could adopt a 2013-14 budget by Dec. 31 after several special-called meetings.

McCain said the introduction and assurance a 2014 spending plan will finally be adopted would also give her the ability to obtain approval from the state Legislative Auditor’s Office to pay outstanding bills and vendors before the end of the month.

“I just want to get it right; there’s no clear A, B, C answer,” McCain said. “Until I have a person named, I’m concerned about trying to adopt a budget before that. As soon as that’s done, we’ll be able to hit the ground running.”

Riviere said he hopes city leaders can persuade Gov. Bobby Jindal to make the interim appointment by early next week so the council can tackle the budget issue immediately.

“These are unique circumstances we’re dealing with,” Riviere said.