Tammany citizens group: $115K salary for coroner’s CEO would be a waste

A citizens group that has launched a recall against embattled St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan is urging the Parish Council to reject funding for a CEO position at the Coroner’s Office.

On Aug. 1, the council put off responding to Galvan’s request to hire a chief executive officer at a salary of $115,000, with council members saying they needed more time to make an informed decision. The council has called a special meeting Aug. 28 to revisit the issue.

Under the terms of a state law passed during this year’s legislative session, the council has authority to oversee the coroner’s finances, which includes setting salaries for employees.

Charles Branton, the attorney for the coroner’s office, told the council on Aug. 1 that the $115,000 annual salary was needed to hire a qualified candidate, whom he did not name. The requested salary is $10,000 less than former CEO Melanie Comeaux was scheduled to earn this year. Comeaux resigned in May.

But in a letter addressed to Parish President Pat Brister and members of the council, Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which is attempting to have Galvan recalled, said the proposed salary is “unacceptable” and urged the council to refuse to fund it or authorize only a minimum-wage salary for the position. The latter would “create a position that cannot be filled,” the group’s letter, dated Thursday, says. That would force Galvan to “do what he was elected to do” and oversee the office’s operations himself, the letter continues.

In the letter, CCST President Richard Franzo unfavorably compared the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s office to its counterparts in Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parishes. The St. Tammany office has a bigger budget and more staff than either of those, Franzo concluded, even though Jefferson and East Baton Rouge coroners support larger populations.

For example, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark has only 12 full-time salaried employees, compared with 27 for Galvan, Franzo’s report says. The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner operates without a CEO, Franzo says. That role is fulfilled by Clark, and serves a population twice St. Tammany’s, Franzo writes.

The letter also takes issue with statements made by Branton, the coroner’s office attorney, at the Aug. 1 Parish Council meeting, where he urged the council to approve the salary.

Branton told the Council Aug. 1 that the CEO position was necessary to help the coroner’s office maintain its accreditation.

Branton also said that 16 candidates had been screened by the firm SNA International, who was assisting with the search. Of those 16 candidates, six met all the required criteria, which included management experience and a background in science.

Franzo said the only accredited function of the St. Tammany Parish Coroner, however, is the DNA lab, which was able to maintain its status under Comeaux, an attorney who lacked any scientific credentials.

The new state law gives the council financial oversight over Galvan’s office, including setting salaries for employees — but not the coroner himself, who set his own salary at $200,000. The council has no authority over whom Galvan hires.

The law was passed in response to revelations about Galvan’s spending, which is being investigated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

Galvan is suing to have the law overturned.

Galvan has ignored myriad calls for him to resign. On Aug. 1, some council members criticized him for not appearing before the council himself to discuss the CEO salary, but Branton indicated that Galvan had been instructed not to appear by his attorney. Branton said a Galvan appearance would create a distraction.

“We are not going to put this into a three-ring circus,” Branton said then.