French Market Corp. stumbles on unexpected salary cap for new director

The board that governs the French Market Corp. has hit a snag trying to hire the agency’s next executive director, apparently hamstrung by a city ordinance that caps the position’s salary at $94,000.

Board President Demetric Mercadel told fellow board members Tuesday that the French Market’s consultants are still negotiating with Valerie Rivers, the board’s choice to replace Frank Pizzolato, who left the job in December after serving for about two years. And while Mercadel did not go into specifics, she brought up the previously unnoticed city ordinance, which she said mandates that the new executive director be hired at Pizzolato’s starting salary rather than what he was making when he left: $110,000.

At the board’s last meeting, Mercadel said that representatives for the board would be talking to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration about setting the salary even higher than that. To get rid of the existing cap, however, may require a nod from both the administration and the City Council.

Mercadel said she still expects the board to have an executive director by September, although she did not say what salary Rivers is seeking. She also pointed out that Jon Wesley Smith, a local businessman and entrepreneur, would still be in the running as the board’s second choice if talks don’t work out.

“We are hoping that everything gets in place and something happens by September,” Mercadel said.

Rivers, an attorney, was one of four finalists interviewed for the job, which would put her in charge of a string of shops, restaurants and outdoor markets along North Peters Street, along with other city-owned property in the French Quarter.

Rivers most recently served as head of the Department of Minority Business Development in Richmond, Va. Before that, she ran the Downtown Redevelopment Authority in Houston, served as director of intergovernmental affairs for a private engineering firm called Montgomery Watson Americas Inc., and did a stint as chief operating officer for the city of Fairfield, Ala.