New legal job being created for Parish Attorney Mary Roper

Advocate staff file photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper.

Position made for Parish Attorney Mary Roper

The City-Parish Employees’ Retirement System board on Thursday voted to recommend creating a new position for a staff attorney, which, if ultimately approved by the Metro Council, is expected to be offered to Parish Attorney Mary Roper.

Roper, whose job has been under attack by a faction of the Metro Council in recent weeks, accepted a deal Wednesday ahead of a scheduled hearing at which the council was set to consider removing her from her position as the parish government’s lead attorney.

Under the deal, Roper is expected to be offered the new position with the retirement system as special counsel, at which point she would resign as parish attorney — a post she’s held since 2008.

At the retirement board meeting, Finance Director Marsha Hanlon told board members that there was a great need for in-house legal services to address the complicated and growing issues facing the system.

“We have been grappling with a whole host of legal issues over the past several months and years that have potential ramifications and consequences for the system,” said Hanlon, who is also a member of the retirement board.

She referenced the proposed city of St. George, noting that the threat of a new governmental entity in the parish could present questions and conflicts with legacy costs that would require extensive legal research.

She also noted that the city-parish recently conducted an employee compensation study that made various recommendations for pay grade and benefit changes that could also create legal issues requiring research.

“An opportunity has presented itself to us, as you all know, where we may be able to employ an in-house counsel at a very reasonable cost to the system,” Hanlon said. “I think it may be in our best interest to seize upon that opportunity.”

The board recommended creating the position with a salary range of $59,554 to $82,437. But Roper, who would accept the job at the highest step and with the city-parish’s additional longevity pay, would earn about $95,000, Hanlon said. A car allowance would also be recommended.

Roper currently earns $120,994 as parish attorney.

The position is unclassified, meaning it does not have to be openly advertised for other applications.

Hanlon also noted that the retirement system hasn’t added additional staff since 1997. The retirement system has since grown from less than $600 million to more than $1 billion. There are currently 12 employees.

The Metro Council will ultimately have final say on whether the position is created and is expected to vote on the issue in July.

The retirement system currently contracts out legal work. In 2013, the agency spent about $79,000 on legal work contracted to law firm Akers and Wisbar, according to budget documents. In total, the firm was billed for 584.6 hours for the year, which means an average of 10.5 hours per week.

Hanlon said after the meeting that there was a need for the in-house position, even before the negotiations over Roper’s job placement began.

“For some time now, we’ve thought there was a need for in-house counsel,” she said.

Roper has been in the council’s crosshairs for the past couple months, because of accusations that she shared proprietary information with her husband related to a software program and complaints about management of the Parish Attorney’s Office.

Roper has maintained that she has done nothing wrong and is being targeted for political reasons by attorneys who want to give the job to their friends.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.