St. Tammany takes over Coroner’s Office finances

With the governor’s signature on Tuesday, the St. Tammany Parish government took control of the controversial Coroner’s Office finances.

The St. Tammany Parish Council will issue the appropriate letters Wednesday requiring Coroner Peter Galvan to transfer all his office’s funds from property taxes to the parish, except for amounts needed for the operation for the remainder of calendar year 2013, Parish President Pat Brister said. The parish finance office will review the coroner’s financial documents to determine what that amount is going to be.

The coroner’s 2013 budget shows that approximately $4.4 million could be received from the property tax in future years, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

“We’ll make sure he has the necessary funds to do the job,” Brister said Tuesday shortly after Gov. Bobby Jindal signed House Bill 561 into law.

HB561 also requires the parish government to approve any contracts or purchase agreements.

Controversy began circulating after news that the Coroner’s Office payroll skyrocketed under Galvan’s supervision.

Office funds also allegedly were used to make trips to Napa Valley and Hilton Head, buy groceries and acquire two take-home cars for the coroner.

Galvan did not respond to two phone messages left Tuesday with staff in his office.

Brister said the parish government would review the Coroner’s Office expenses and pay practices to determine what is reasonable.

Brister said state law forbids parish government from reducing the coroner’s salary until a new election. Galvan is paid about $200,000 a year for his part-time job.

“I’m certain that St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and the rest of the Parish Council will manage the office in a prudent fashion,” said state Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville and sponsor of HB561. “It sort of stems the bleeding.”

Burns said the new law would help rebuild the public’s confidence in local government.

He pointed out that Galvan’s activities are being reviewed by Legislative Auditor and law enforcement agencies.

“There is no other way to get him out of there. He won’t resign,” Burns said.

Impeachment is so difficult under Louisiana law that it is impractical, he said.

But Rick Franzo, of Lacombe, said Tuesday his Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany are attempting get enough signatures on a recall petition to force a new election.

Franzo said the group needs about 17,500 signatures, or one third of St. Tammany Parish’s roughly 53,000 registered voters, by mid-November.

Galvan, a Republican, was elected with 32,455 votes or 73.8 percent of the votes cast in October 2011.

Franzo wouldn’t say Tuesday how many signatures the group has gotten but said they are “on pace” to fulfill the requirements needed for Jindal to call an election.

In the meantime, Franzo said, “I’m hoping the parish council has a good plan going forward.”