Tempers ignite at Port Allen meeting over controversial staff decisions

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - 12:17pm

Political leaders and community members took part in a heated debate at the Port Allen City Council meeting Wednesday night. The controversy sparked over the firing of a the city's chief financial officer and municipal clerk, as well as, Mayor Deedy's Slaughters decision to hire her brother-in-law Dr. Ralph Slaughter as Chief of Staff.

"Based on my knowledge of the current state of the operation of the office, I have appointed Dr. Ralph Slaughter as the Mayor's Chief of Staff. Some of you may consider this controversial, but based on the significant weaknesses we see in our internal financial and accounting system extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary and extreme measures," Slaughter said when explaining her reasoning for hiring her new chief of staff.

"We the personal committee make the following recommendation that this department (chief of staff) does not get created and the money for it not get appropriated," Council member Garry Hubble disapproved of the newly created and appointed chief of staff position.

More than a hundred people showed up for the meeting filling council chambers and two separate lobbies in City Hall. Fire marshals and police were on handle to calm the crowd. At one point a man was escorted out of the meeting after getting animated in his support of the mayor.

The fights began with the discussion of the potential appointment of a new municipal clerk. Monday the mayor terminated Audrey McCain as the city's chief financial officer and "chose" not to reappoint McCain municipal clerk.

The mayor says "problems" with McCain's upkeep of the city's finances were the reason behind the termination. The legislative auditor found issues with the way things were being done, and Slaughter told the audience removing McCain from office was her only choice.

Slaughter cited state law Revised Statute 33:386 which she says defines McCain's role as clerk ended in December at the end of the previous mayor's term. The city council and the mayor went back and for arguing over city statutes and state laws regarding McCain's positions.

Eventually the city attorney, Victor Woods, made the clarification that McCain is still technically the municipal clerk pending legal action, because she held a position according to city statutes can not be terminated without consent of the City Council.

McCain's attorney Cy J. D'Aquila Jr. told the council he has filed an injunction to get a temporary restraining order against the mayor's decision to terminate McCain's job. He says McCain should not have been fired as chief financial officer because the position was acting in the capacity of a department head, another position that can not be terminated without council approval under city ordinace.

"Still is the municipal clerk, and she is still the chief financial officer, and she will be back at work tomorrow morning at 7:30. And of course, we hope and pray that there will be no turmoil or ill feelings," D'Aquila said.

Diana LeBlanc, a Port Allen resident, spoke out at the meeting about the firing: "Transparency that we need so that there is no shadowy discussions that we are in on all of the discussion that they are in on."

Wendell Hightower, came out in defense of the mayor's decision and said she was attacked by the council and the community.

"Not just because this mayor is taking over your going to approach her with these type of questions," Hightower, exclaimed. "Have you approached the other mayors with the same questions. They did the same thing when they came in they brought certain people in."

The conversation of McCain's positions with the city ended because the discussion went over it's allotted time.

Then the crowd braced themselves for the night's highly anticipated announcement who would the mayor choose to fill the chief of staff position.

The controversial new position was created by the mayor to help her "resolve internal issues" regarding the legislative auditor's findings. The mayor explained the position would also take over part of the chief financial officer's duties.

In the end it was Dr. Ralph Slaughter, former president of the Southern University Systems.

"Dr. Slaughter has the extensive governmental accounting audited and executive management experience to correct these deficiencies," the Mayor explained.

The nomination didn't receive a warm welcome.

Once again the city council and he mayor were at odds. Members of the council were outraged the mayor never revealed the names and resumes of the people who applied for the position. The mayor only released Dr. Slaughter's application at Wednesday's meeting.

At issue was the mayor's authority to select a chief of staff without first getting the approval of the city council.

Slaughter explained she was within her authority because the role of chief of staff would not be creating a new department head, rather adding a new position to her administrative staff.

City council member Hugh Riviere argued that the mayor created a position that the council did not agree to fund.

City attorney Victor Woods, clarified that the mayor did have the authority to create the position; however, the position can only be filled if the city council, who controls the budget, agrees to find the funding for the salary.

Several council members spoke out against the mayor's plan because the mayor would not answer at the meeting what she wanted to pay the chief of staff position. Slaughter told the council she would determine an exact amount for the salary at a special meeting sometime in the future.

Slaughter fought back saying the council would not have treated previous mayors with such contempt:

"Nobody that's jumping up and down said anything that other than this is the mayor's call. Now that I am the mayor and trying to deal with a crisis in the finance office, I want to have questions from everyone. I was elected by 55 percent of the citizens of Port Allen. Some of you in here did not vote for me and will continue to question everything that I do. But I will continue to do what I think is right for this community whether you voted for me or not. "

In the end many left the meeting still outraged and vowing the debate isn't over.

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