Court blocks Port Allen firing

City official back at job until hearing

A state district judge granted a temporary restraining order Thursday blocking Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter from firing the city’s chief financial officer and ordered Slaughter to show cause why his order should not become permanent.

Judge Alvin Batiste set a hearing regarding Slaughter’s firing of CFO Audrey McCain for 9 a.m. Wednesday in 18th Judicial District Court.

The mayor dismissed McCain on Monday from her jobs as city chief financial officer and municipal clerk. McCain had worked for the city of Port Allen since Oct. 1, 2011.

Slaughter informed City Council members of McCain’s firing in a letter, an action that stirred up negative responses among a majority of council members during their meeting Wednesday night.

Slaughter wrote that she dismissed McCain because of accounting deficiencies cited in an audit of the city’s financial records for fiscal year 2011.

“I’m disappointed she’s taking that role; please, go through the council to check things out,” Councilman R.J. Loupe said Thursday of Mayor Slaughter. “She’s been avoiding us as far as I can see.”

Loupe said the city’s financial records were in deplorable shape even before McCain was hired and that McCain had worked to correct the deficiencies.

“Audrey made a whole lot of difference,” Loupe said. “She was getting things back in order. The books were so bad, we had to hire outside contractors to help her out.”

McCain’s petition for the temporary restraining order, filed by attorney Cy J. D’Aquila Jr., of New Roads, asserts that McCain’s termination violates state law and city statute, both of which require City Council approval before a municipality such as Port Allen can dismiss a clerk or department head.

City Attorney Victor Woods argued during the council’s tumultuous meeting Wednesday night that Slaughter has authority to fire McCain because McCain’s chief financial officer post had not been designated as a department head position by city ordinance. Woods added, however, state law does not give the mayor authority to remove McCain from her job as a municipal clerk.

At City Hall on Thursday afternoon, McCain referred all questions regarding the injunction to her attorney.

“We took the position she was never terminated because it wasn’t done correctly,” D’Aquila said Thursday. “So, she went to work this morning and assumed her role as the municipal clerk. Now that we have the injunction, she’s back as the CFO as well.”

Slaughter said in an email Thursday she could not comment on Batiste’s temporary restraining order because it is a matter of pending litigation.

In response to Batiste’s granting of McCain’s request for a temporary restraining order, Woods filed a motion later Thursday on the mayor’s behalf objecting to the court’s decision granting the restraining order.

Woods’ motion claims McCain and her attorney failed to follow the state Code of Civil Procedure by contacting city officials about the petition for a restraining order before it was filed in court. The city’s motion further argues that McCain’s petition did not properly state what “irreparable injury, loss or damages” would require the court to issue the temporary restraining order.

D’Aquila said the question of whether his client’s job classifies her as a department head or not will be at the center of the arguments during next week’s court hearing.

Meanwhile, City Council members agreed unanimously Wednesday night to begin work on drafting a city ordinance that will settle the issue. Councilman Garry Hubble, chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, made the motion to begin work on the proposed ordinance clarifying the job status of employees such as McCain.

“We need a clear definition of the department heads and who they are so we can move on to the real issues of the city — and this isn’t one of them,” Hubble said Thursday. “I received so many phone calls expressing disgust with what happened at last night’s meeting. It’s shameful the way our city was portrayed.”