Mayor salary issue still confounding Port Allen officials

How much Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter should be earning as Port Allen’s mayor remains unclear two months after a state district judge ordered the City Council to amend the 2012-13 fiscal year budget to reflect the $84,960 annual salary for the city’s top position.

The council amended that budget Sept. 11, but Slaughter vetoed the amendment Sept. 19, and the matter will come up for a potential veto override Oct. 9.

Meanwhile, attorneys on both sides in a lawsuit three city councilmen had filed against Slaughter over her salary have varying opinions about both the salary issue and the judge’s order.

Judge Alvin Batiste ruled the council improperly lowered the mayor’s salary to $65,000.

He basically said the council can either amend the budget to reflect the higher salary or Slaughter can seek another order from the court requiring the council to make that amendment.

Batiste also granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop Slaughter from drawing the higher salary until the council amends the budget.

Despite the injunction, the city’s chief financial officer, Audrey McCain, confirmed via email Thursday that Slaughter’s salary has been paid at the rate of $84,960 a year since she took office Jan. 1 — payments attorney J. Arthur Smith said are illegal.

“Mayor Slaughter cannot pay herself a salary unless it is appropriated by the council,” Smith said.

“(The council) is in control of the purse strings. Anything in excess of $65,000 is illegal until the council chooses to appropriate that money.”

Smith represents Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, R.J. Loupe and Garry Hubble, who in June asked in 18th Judicial District Court for the temporary restraining order.

Slaughter’s attorney, Ronald Johnson, said it’s OK for the mayor to continue drawing the higher pay rate as long as she doesn’t exhaust the budgeted funds for the position before the 2012-13 budget can be amended.

“She’s not overdrawing the budget,” Johnson said. “If it comes to pass that the funds are exhausted, then she can no longer receive that amount.”

Amending the 2012-13 budget is still relevant because the city has not yet adopted its 2013-14 budget, due to the strife between the three council members and the mayor.

Batiste had ruled the council improperly lowered the salary for the mayor by simply adopting the 2012-13 budget.

Instead, the council should have adopted a separate ordinance to lower the salary.

That budget was adopted before Slaughter took office.

With the 2012-13 budget still in play, the judge ordered the council to amend it.

Johnson said the mayor will be seeking the order from the court requiring the council to amend the 2012-13 budget.

“The council has been given sufficient time … and they have failed to do so,” Johnson said.

However, the council did adopt an ordinance on Sept. 11 to set the mayor’s salary at $84,960 a year, which Slaughter vetoed a week later, asserting the measure violated state law because it also attempted to give department head status to five city administrative positions.

“The judge didn’t say, ‘Go back and determine who are department heads,’ ” Slaughter said Thursday.

“They are still denying the claim that the judge told them. He made it known everything should be put in an ordinance for that amount, (but) at the same time you want to slip in department heads, too?”

Slaughter also maintains she has been within her legal right to collect the $84,960 annual salary based on an opinion from former City Attorney Victor Woods, who said in January that the mayor’s salary had to remain at that rate because the council hadn’t properly reduced it.

“From day one, attorney Woods told them I was in my right standing to receive the pay I’ve been receiving; they ignored that,” she said.

Slaughter’s veto can be overturned by the council with a 4-1 vote, but that may be unlikely considering the ordinance was originally adopted on a 3-2 vote.

“When she vetoed it, she sent a message she wasn’t interested in having the house in order,” Hubble said.

“I wasn’t trying to sneak anything in. I do everything above board. The reason she doesn’t want classified department heads is because she’d like to have complete control.”