Port Allen mayor, council wrangle over recall petitions

PORT ALLEN — Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere confronted Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter on Wednesday night over the mayor’s highly publicized statements accusing three white members of the five-member City Council of leading the recall drive to oust her from office.

Riviere’s move touched off a series of tense — sometimes fiery — exchanges between council members and residents that generally revisited disputes over past allegations of racial discrimination in the conduct of city business since Slaughter took office Jan. 1.

“I couldn’t distance myself more from (the recall petition) than I did for the first three months,” Riviere, who is white, told Slaughter during the meeting. “For you to put that out there — nothing could be further from the truth.”

Riviere and Councilman Garry Hubble, both white men, also denied early involvement in the recall effort before giving their reasons for signing the petition shortly before it was submitted to the West Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters Office for certification.

Councilman R.J. Loupe acknowledged for the first time publicly that he also signed the anti-Slaughter petition after another group of residents filed a recall petition targeting him on Sept. 4.

Riviere brought up the letter Slaughter presented to the media in March in which she, a black woman, accused the three white councilmen of harassment and racial discrimination during her tenure.

“Again, nothing could be further from the truth,” Riviere said. “Just because you and I disagree about how you’re running the city, I’m racist? Is that the only card you play?”

Slaughter quickly responded “no,” and told Riviere she was informed by people affiliated with the recall committee that he and the other councilmen were involved in the recall effort.

The racial divide spilled into other council business with the three white council members approving a pair of agenda items dealing with the mayor’s salary and hiring a new city attorney.

Loupe, Riviere and Hubble voted in favor of hiring the Smith Law Firm, at a rate of $250 an hour, to serve as city attorney succeeding Victor Woods, who resigned in June.

But Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence and Councilman Brandon Brown, who are black, voted against what they considered an effort to sidestep the mayor’s authority to recommend new legal counsel to the City Council for approval.

“I just don’t make decisions before going through the proper channels,” Lawrence said.

“I’m tired of waiting,” Riviere responded. “It’s obvious we haven’t had a city attorney for the past two months. Victor informed the mayor back in February of his plans to resign. Here we are in September and we still have no one. We have city business that needs to get done. The city is falling by the wayside.”

Slaughter told the council she was in the process of interviewing three candidates and would be making a recommendation soon.

“I have to make that recommendation,” Slaughter said to Riviere.

But Riviere countered that the Lawrason Act, a state law that spells out how municipalities must function, doesn’t specifically grant that right to the mayor.

“If it said ‘shall appoint,’ you have that decision,” he added.

The council locked in another 3-2 vote in setting the salary of the mayor at $84,960 annually.

The ordinance, presented by Hubble, puts the council in compliance with a state District Court judge ruling that the amount of Slaughter’s salary had to be set by adopting a specific ordinance and not by fixing the amount when adopting the city’s annual budget ordinance.

The issue over Slaughter’s pay reached the court after Hubble, Riviere and Loupe sued Slaughter, accusing her of abusing her executive powers by ignoring city’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget pegging her pay at $65,000 annually.

Lawrence and Brown voted against Hubble’s ordinance because it also grants department head status to five city government administrative positions.

The Lawrason Act does give the mayor the power to veto both measures enacted Wednesday night by the council majority.

But Slaughter refused to say after the meeting whether she would exercise her veto power in regard to the council’s latest actions.