PORT ALLEN — City Council members filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter, asking a state district judge to make a legal determination as to whether the council properly reduced the mayor’s salary by $20,000 a year when adopting its 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble also asked the 18th Judicial District Court to issue injunctions blocking the mayor from allegedly using unbudgeted funds to pay her legal bills, annual salary and benefits.
The lawsuit declares Slaughter’s actions have “exceeded well beyond the general powers of supervision and direction of administration of the municipality’s affairs. The City Council does not know what checks are being written, why they are being written, or whether the accounts against which they are being written have sufficient funds to cover the checks.”
Further, “The mayor has blocked access to the city’s financial information by those who have a right to and a need to know the information,” the suit says.
The councilmen also asked the court for a restraining order prohibiting Slaughter from continuing to deny city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain access to the city’s financial accounts and banking transactions. Slaughter, who took office on Jan. 1, did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
The lawsuit was filed one day after the state Legislative Auditor’s Office released an audit report recommending the city seek a court ruling to resolve questions surrounding the mayor’s $84,960 annual salary.
The audit said the City Council and former Mayor Roger Bergeron acted improperly in lowering the mayor’s salary in June 2012 from $84,960 annually to $65,000 a year by simply adopting the city’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
The audit said the five-member City Council should have enacted a separate ordinance directly stating the mayor’s salary reduction, effective when he left office Dec. 31.
But the three council members asserted in their 15-page petition to the court Tuesday that the mayor’s salary was “properly and lawfully” set at $65,000 annually through the budget ordinance.
The lawsuit claims Slaughter violated the city’s annual budget ordinance by telling the city’s administrative coordinator, shortly after Slaughter took office in January, to pay the mayor an annual salary of $84,960 instead of $65,000.
The suit accuses Slaughter of violating Governmental Auditing Standards by ignoring concerns raised by McCain over the salary increase issue. McCain told the mayor she would need council approval on a budget amendment to draw the salary increase, the lawsuit says.
Slaughter retaliated against McCain for balking at paying Slaughter the additional $20,000 a year, the lawsuit claims. Slaughter, “on or about June 3, removed Ms. McCain’s online banking access and check writing/signing authority,” the lawsuit says.
The councilmen argue in the lawsuit that Slaughter violated the 2012 budget ordinance by instructing city personnel to pay her $6,000 annually for a car allowance even though the council previously set the allowance at $4,800 a year in the 2012-13 budget.
The lawsuit also touched on another recommendation in Monday’s audit report which said the city should seek legal advice in determining how to get back more than $2,400 in public funds the city paid Slaughter as expenses for her trip to Washington, D.C., to attend President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
The audit report said the mayor may have violated state law by claiming expenses for her Washington trip because she did not provide proof she had actually conducted any city-related business while in the nation’s capital.
The councilmen asked the court to order Slaughter to refund the $2,400 for her Washington trip expenses as well as return to the city more than $3,400 she paid the Phelps Dunbar law firm for representing her in a string of lawsuits filed against her in connection with her attempt to fire McCain in February.
Slaughter, according to the lawsuit, “paid this money to the Phelps Dunbar law firm without following any of the standard internal control protocols that the city has in place relative to purchase orders and payment invoices and while the CFO was on vacation.”
The suit alleges that on June 7, the mayor also authorized a direct deposit payment to herself in the amount of $3,267 that had been unbudgeted by the City Council.
Slaughter authorized the payment even after the CFO and the city’s mayor pro tempore refused to sign off on it because it would push her annual salary beyond its budgeted amount, the lawsuit says.