Port Allen council approves ‘transparency’ measures

The City Council adopted several ordinances aimed at increasing government transparency and more clearly defining policies and procedures at a meeting Wednesday.

Most passed with little discussion, but a measure to grant department head status for five administrative positions came in for criticism from opponents who saw it as an attempt to undermine the authority of former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter.

Councilman Garry Hubble presented the ordinance to the council for consideration a third time on Feb. 12.

Adopted by the council in a 3-2 vote Wednesday, the ordinance designates the city’s chief financial officer, chief administrative officer, fire chief, police chief and public works director as department heads.

Councilmen Hubble, Hugh “Hootie” Riviere and R.J. Loupe voted in favor while councilmen Brandon Brown and Ray Helen Lawrence voted against the measure.

Brown has said in the past the ordinance provided too much protection to certain city-government employees.

Hubble has been trying to get the ordinance on the books since the city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Slaughter in February 2013 after Slaughter tried to fire McCain.

Slaughter vetoed Hubble’s previous efforts twice before she was recalled from office on Nov. 16.

A state District Court judge temporarily blocked the mayor’s attempt to dismiss McCain, saying Slaughter could only do so with the consent of the City Council.

The case is scheduled for a two-day trial before state District Judge Alvin Batiste on March 31.

Hubble said previously that his ordinance would bring clarity to the legal status of department heads in the wake of McCain’s lawsuit.

T hat notion was challenged Wednesday night by Castor Brown, a Slaughter supporter who accused the council of trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

“Our biggest problem last year came when Mayor Slaughter attempted to move some people out of office,” Brown said during the public hearing. He said Slaughter had the legal authority to dismiss McCain and that there was no need to clarify anything.

“Y’all are going back and forth about this trying to make the city look bad and the citizens are tired of it,” Brown said.

“The people see what’s going on and there are going to be repercussions. The people are not going for this.”

Riviere responded by reminding Brown that Batiste said in open court that McCain was, in fact, a department head.

“If she wasn’t a department head, the mayor would have had the authority to dismiss her without the council’s approval,” he said.

Also among the batch of ordinances the council adopted Wednesday was a measure modifying the city’s hiring practices, an ordinance requiring two administrative signatures on all checks issued on the city’s bank accounts and an ordinance setting the salaries of the city’s elected officials.

Most of the measures stem from some of the council’s other clashes with Slaughter while she was in office.

Slaughter was accused in a meeting in February 2013 of making several hires during her administration that weren’t approved by the council or properly advertised to the public.

“There’s no more gray areas,” Riviere said of the ordinance relating to hiring practices. “Personally I thought the old ordinance was good, but of course it wasn’t.”