PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - A very heated hearing happened Tuesday in Port Allen over the lawsuit three council members filed last week against Mayor Deedy Slaughter.
Judge Baptiste says council members didn't properly reduce the mayor's salary back in June 2012 when it was voted on to be reduced for the 2013 budget. In addition, Mayor Slaughter will still be able to keep certain people, like Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain, from getting access to the city's online bank finances. Judge added that Slaughter can't use tax dollars to pay for her legal services unless the council approves.
The hearing was to determine if Slaughter violated a court order. It all centered on the firing and court-ordered reinstatement of the city's CFO, Audrey McCain, in February.
The mayor was ordered by a judge to be present at the hearing, but she did not show up. Instead, her lawyer, Ron Johnson, said if her counsel was present, she didn't need to be, which Judge Batiste approved.
McCain claims Slaughter ignored the judge's order to allow McCain to do her job.
According to WAFB's Kiran Chawla: In reference to one of the payroll checks to Mayor Slaughter, McCain says that was a "Houston, we've got a problem" moment. The council members' attorney presented an exhibit from American Gateway Bank identified as a slip that showed non-sufficient funds in the amount of $16,000 in the payroll account after McCain was removed of her check signing authority. "It could potentially put in jeopardy all my employees' checks. That's what causes me concern," said McCain.
Johnson asked when McCain had access to the online bank accounts, who was her checks and balances, since McCain and the council serve as the mayor's checks and balances. McCain answered law enforcement and an auditor if she's doing wrong. He asked "only when you doing wrong?" McCain replied, "Well, rules apply to me"
Johnson: "Are you a biased witness since you have filed suit against the mayor? What's your relationship with the mayor?"
McCain: "She doesn't speak to me."
Johnson: "So you don't speak to her?"
McCain: "When she asks me a question, I answer."
Former Mayor Bergeron was paid a car allowance for three months, even though there was no money in the budget for a car allowance. He did return the funds. Johnson says the council members are asking the mayor to reimburse the money she used from the city finances and have filed suit for that.
Johnson: "Did anyone file suit asking for Bergeron to return money?"
Johnson: "Any reason why the two mayors are treated differently?"
In his cross examination with Councilman Hugh Riviere, the same subject came up and Riviere said Bergeron repaid it.
Johnson: "So he cleaned it up, so to speak?"
Riviere: "It was an honest mistake."
Johnson: "So Mayor Bergeron can make an honest mistake but Mayor Slaughter cannot?"
Council member Garry Hubble testified that he doesn't believe that there is effective oversight of the city's finances due to limits on McCain.
Johnson asked that two aspects of the lawsuit be dismissed. He claims the suit is unauthorized and potentially illegal, saying the council members violated the open meeting law in order to file the suit.
He added that the salary issue needs to be tossed out because in June 2011, when a reduction of the mayor's budget for 2013 was passed, the mayor's salary was never introduced as a formal ordinance. It was simply approved in the 2012-2013 operating budget. Johnson says it must be introduced formally.
Seven people took the stand Tuesday: McCain, former city attorney Victor Woods, Chief Administrative Officer Adrian Genre, payroll clerk Robin Ackerman, and council members Hubble, Riviere, and R.J. Loupe.