Opelousas won’t appeal judge’s ruling

The Opelousas Board of Aldermen did not have enough votes Tuesday to approve filing an appeal of the ruling by a state district judge who found that the city hired employees in violation of state civil service laws.

Mayor Donald Cravins Sr. said during the meeting that he does not agree with the Feb. 28 ruling by 27th Judicial District Court Judge James Doherty, who identified eight Cravins appointees as unclassified employees who are exempt from civil service rules.

On Tuesday the board voted 3-2 to appeal Doherty’s ruling. Alderman Joe Charles abstained.

Alderman Reggie Tatum, who voted against the appeal, said state law indicates that the passage of a resolution requires a majority vote of the board members present at a meeting.

After the meeting, however, City Attorney Garrett Duplechin said although three members of the board — Julius Alsandor, Louis Butler, Jr. and Jacqueline Martin — voted for the appeal, another vote in favor of the appeal was needed for a majority.

Alderman Blair Briggs also voted against the appeal. Briggs said he voted against it because of the city’s financial condition.

Greg Vidrine, an attorney hired to represent the city in the lawsuit, said the city has 60 days to appeal the district court ruling.

Vidrine said after the vote that he would not be surprised if the matter came before the aldermen again at a later date.

During the meeting Vidrine told the board that the lawsuit, filed in 2011 on behalf of the Opelousas Civil Service Commission, is alleging the city has a number of employees who were hired improperly at the request of Cravins.

Vidrine said the “general rule” for hiring municipal employees is that each one is a classified employee of civil service. However, the city contended in the lawsuit that there are a number of exceptions to the Civil Service laws, he said.

One of those exceptions, Vidrine said, is that department heads should be classified as civil service employees.

“After a two-day trial, the court ruled that a number of employees were outside of classified employee service and found that a number (of workers) should have been non-classified,” Vidrine said.

Cravins said he disagreed with Doherty.

“I do not think it’s within the judge’s authority to determine who should be hired and who should be fired,” Cravins said.

Cravins also questioned whether Doherty had the “power” to determine which municipal workers were department heads. Some departments in municipal governments have never been classified as civil service, Cravins said.

“I think it is a bad ruling … every administration has some people that are appointed,” Cravins said.

In Doherty’s 12-page ruling he wrote that the 1974 state constitution indicates unclassified employees include those heads of executive departments appointed by the governor or mayor.

“This court is guided by the fact that unclassified service is an exception to the general rule that all employees other than specific unclassified employees are to be classified and subject to the Civil Service rules …,” Doherty wrote in his ruling.