Mayoral salary in Port Allen an issue not settled

The last four Port Allen mayors each earned about $85,000 a year, but only now are some city councilmen questioning whether that salary is too high.

Some City Council members have said the $84,960 a year salary for Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter is too steep for a city of 5,180 residents.

Plaquemine’s mayor earns $64,500 a year to serve 7,119 residents.

The mayor of New Roads is paid $62,000 a year to serve 4,831 residents.

In Baker, the mayor is paid $74,737 a year to serve 13,895 residents, earning less than the Port Allen mayor but serving a city more than twice that size.

It was Port Allen’s former mayor Mayor Roger Bergeron who had asked the council to lower the mayor’s pay to $65,000 a year for the next term — an action they took through adopting the 2012 budget but that Slaughter refused to recognize once she took office Jan. 1.

The salary became a hot-button issue in February after Audrey McCain, the city’s chief financial officer, revealed that Slaughter, in continuing to receive the $84,960 salary, would send two of the city’s operating funds into a deficit.

City Attorney Victor Woods said the previous administration and City Council never properly lowered the mayor’s pay just by adopting the new budget. Woods, in a legal opinion, said the mayor’s salary could be lowered only by a specific vote from the council outlining the pay reduction.

Slaughter refused to comment for this story on her salary, or any related questions, due to the state Legislative Auditor’s Office pending investigation into the matter.

Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere justified the mayor’s current salary because of West Baton Rouge Parish’s rich tax base.

“Port Allen is a unique city. With the tax base and all the industry in the area, it allows us to pay more,” Riviere said.

The mayor’s salary reached the $80,000 mark under the administration of Derek Lewis.

Lewis served as Port Allen mayor for six and a half years before resigning from office in 2011 and pleading guilty to a racketeering charge in federal court.

The mayor’s salary was $66,765 a year when Lewis entered the office in 2004, according to city records. Lewis’ predecessor, Lynn Robertson, was paid $54,880 a year when she started and left office after three terms earning $66,765 annually.

R.J. Loupe, the longest-serving member on the City Council, attributed the position’s pay hike to annual across-the-board pay increases for city employees.

“For 20 years straight, employees got like a 4 percent raise, and 4 percent on the mayor’s salary was between $2,000 to $3,000,” Loupe said.

Loupe, who briefly served as mayor after Lewis’ resignation, said he had no qualms with Slaughter earning $85,000 a year. However, he said she should have submitted a budget adjustment to the council for approval.

“She’s the mayor, she deserves what’s on the books,” he said. “I earned that salary. Roger did. Derek did, too.”

Councilman Garry Hubble said that given the mayor’s workload, the salary can be justified. However, he said Slaughter has not yet proved she’s worth the $85,000 a year the city is paying her.

In fact, he said, he doesn’t even think $65,000 a year is a reasonable salary “given the present situation — not with a so-called chief of staff taking on about 80 percent of her duties.”

Hubble is referring to another one of Slaughter’s controversial actions: appointing her brother-in-law Ralph Slaughter as her chief of staff in February. The mayor said previously Ralph Slaughter is not being paid in the position.

Ralph Slaughter’s appointment dismayed many residents because he was ousted from his post as the president for Southern University System in 2009.

A U.S. District Court judge ordered the former university president in August 2012 to repay $275,000 to the school’s private fundraising arm.

Port Allen City Councilman Brandon Brown said if Deedy Slaughter “just planned on handling the job on her own, I don’t have a problem with what she gets paid. But it seems like the chief of staff is taking on a healthy bit of the responsibility.”

The mayor’s salary will most likely be a point of interest as discussions begin for the city’s 2013 fiscal year budget.

Hubble, who chairs the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee, said although the administration hasn’t been presented the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, it’s his understanding the mayor’s salary is still set at the $65,000 mark adopted last year.

Hubble added he has no intentions of voting for increasing the mayor’s pay.

“If you’re doing things you aren’t supposed to, your employer is not going to reward you with more money,” he said. “I’m not one to reward people for bad behavior.”