Showdown in Port Allen

PORT ALLEN - The City Council on Wednesday night voted to ask the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to open an investigation into certain actions of Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter since she assumed office Jan. 1.

In response, Slaughter informed the council she has contacted the U.S. Attorney General’s Office about filing a federal compliant regarding the alleged discrimination, harassment and violation of her civil rights by certain members of the council since she became mayor.

The latest developments in the racially tinged conflict between the City Council and Slaughter once again played out before a packed audience Wednesday night.

According to the resolution requesting an investigation of Slaughter, introduced by Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, the council wants the Sheriff’s Office and district attorney for the 18th Judicial District to look into possible criminal and ethical violations concerning the Slaughter administration.

The resolution cited Slaughter’s move to increase her salary by $20,000 a year without council approval, hiring her brother-in-law to serve as the city government’s chief of staff - an unauthorized and unpaid position - and allowing him to have access to confidential city records. The resolution additionally cited Slaughter’s actions in attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration and getting reimbursed by the city, which the resolution says was a trip that appears to have no benefit to Port Allen.

Riviere told the audience that having a third party intervene and investigate the issues raised in the resolution was the best way to settle the ongoing disputes.

“Within the last two months ... it has become more obvious there’s not much trust in the public about whether we can do the job we do,” Riviere said during the meeting. “Coming to the last three meetings, our disagreements have only escalated (and) we’re not taking care of the business we’re elected to do. This is the fastest way to have these things resolved and get along with doing the business we have to do.”

Before reading the resolution, Slaughter told the council she already had reached out to the office of Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell as well and requested Caldwell to conduct his own investigation into the same issues.

The council approved Riviere’s resolution on a 3-2 vote, with Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence and Councilman Brandon Brown voting in opposition. The council split along racial lines, with three white members voting for the investigations and two black members voting against the investigations.

Brown said he didn’t feel it was fair for the council to target only Slaughter with an investigation.

“I’d like to go back as far as possible with the other mayors,” Brown said.

Several citizens in the audience shared passionate opinions about the council’s move to have Slaughter investigated.

Most black residents in the audience supported the mayor while most white residents primarily sided with the council’s three-member white majority.

William Nelson, a black man, accused the three white councilmen of being racists because of their actions in regard to Slaughter. Nelson had to be escorted out of the meeting by authorities.

Ray Stumbo, a white man, told city leaders they should be working together toward the betterment of the city.

Stumbo also acknowledged the racial divide the conflict in city government has caused in the community.

“For the sake of this community we need to put the past behind us and move on together,” Stumbo said. “This has gotten way too racially charged for many. The only way we can move on is to have a third party look in and see what’s going on.”

Mayor Slaughter’s trip to Washington, D.C., was revealed in a WBRZ-TV news report that asserted the mayor had spent more than $2,400 to attend Obama’s January inauguration.

Slaughter told WBRZ reporters she went to Washington to meet with several members of the Louisiana congressional delegation about securing grant funds for Port Allen.

But in later televised reports, the same individuals she named denied meeting with Slaughter regarding city business.

Slaughter announced on Feb. 13 she was creating a chief of staff position for her administration and was installing her brother-in-law, Ralph Slaughter, as its occupant.

Ralph Slaughter, who is the former president of the Southern University system, also paid for the mayor’s trip to Washington, according to the WBRZ report.

The mayor said her brother-in-law was not being paid to serve as her chief of staff.

City Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain reported on Feb. 26 that two operating funds in the city’s 2012 fiscal year budget were headed for a $20,000 shortfall because the mayor had raised her salary from $65,000 to $84,960 annually when she took office.

The mayor’s salary had been lowered when the City Council approved the 2012 budget.

City Attorney Victor Woods argued in a legal opinion that the mayor was within her rights to implement the pay increase because the council had not properly lowered the salary by simply adopting the new fiscal year budget.

Woods said in a Jan. 8 opinion on the salary issue submitted to Slaughter that the mayor’s salary had to be reduced by adoption of a specific ordinance detailing the proposed reduction, an action that had not been taken during the previous administration.

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