New secretarial job voted for St. John Parish Council

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / August 19, 2000

LAPLACE – Despite attorney advice against it, the St. John the BaptistParish Council has voted to hire another secretary to help out in the council office.

Seven council members called a special meeting Saturday morning to solve some unique personnel problems in the council office.

Several weeks ago council secretary Audrey Millet sued the council and the parish over a zoning dispute near her home. As a result, attorneys forthe parish suggested Millet be placed in another part of the parish government so the parish’s defense would not be compromised. The councilagreed, and Millet was reassigned to the clerk’s office in Garyville.

The administration then loaned the council one of its secretaries, but unfortunately she became ill and was out for two weeks.

During that time lawyers for both Millet and the parish needed to get into the council office to look up records for the period of discovery. Theywere unable to do so, plus the clerical work of the council was starting to pile up.

As Allen St. Pierre put it, “This office is in limbo, and we can’t have thisoffice in limbo.”However, the parish charter became an obstacle to the council’s attempt to remedy the situation. Council attorney Barry Landry told the council thecharter only allows the council to hire one secretary. Hiring anotherperson to fill the position may not be legal, warned Landry.

Dale Wolfe asked if the council could hire a contract worker to do the work, but Landry said the charter does not say that is legal.

“The heart of our council government is being stripped because we can’t function without a secretary,” Wolfe said. “I can’t believe we can’t hireout a contract service. We must be out of our mind to operate this way.”He added, “As far as I’m concerned we should contract out that position until the council secretary comes back. It’s up to this office, and it is ourresponsibility. I don’t care what anybody says.”Landry then suggested the parish government appoint another person to the secretary’s position.

But Wolfe was unhappy with this idea.

“The charter keeps a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, and I don’t think the two branches should be sharing employees. I don’t feel comfortable working with a secretary who has beenappointed by the administration,” he said.

Job Boucvalt agreed. “We are over a barrel. We don’t want a Civil Serviceperson because they will have two bosses and report to the parish president.”However, the parish’s chief administrative officer, Chris Guidry, said later, “We would never break the trust between the council and their secretary. We would tell that person that they are only responsible to thecouncil.”Guidry told the council he saw no problem in the administration appointing a full-time secretary to the council’s office.

Lester Rainey said there might be a loophole in the charter that the council could squeeze through. Rainey said the charter doesn’t specifywhat employees the council can hire, just hire people to staff the office.

Barry said, “It is an out. Maybe it could be done; I don’t know. It depends onhow the court would interpret it.”Rainey also discovered that the council could hire a legislative assistant who would also perform clerical duties. Landry agreed that a legislativeassistant was the same as a council secretary.

Cleveland Farlough suggested the charter be amended.

“What should be done is that the council needs more than one person in their office,” he said. “This situation could happen again. This should bebrought before the voters to amend the charter so that we can carry on council business. I don’t want to violate the charter.”Wolfe said, “I’m going on record saying that I want to see our office properly staffed. If we pass this motion to staff the office and it iswrong, so be it. Let the courts decide.”But Farlough responded, “I would be turning my back on the people who voted for this charter if I voted for this.”St. Pierre moved for a resolution that would establish a procedure forcouncil to employ its own personnel to work for the legislative arm of the government.

Landry reminded the council one more time that it could hire one secretary. In order to hire someone else, the council would either have tofire Millet or amend the parish charter.

The resolution passed 4 -3 with Duaine Duffy, Boucvalt and Farlough voting against. Steve Lee and Ranney Wilson were absent from themeeting.

When asked later if the council was in danger of being sued for violating the charter, Council Chairperson Melissa Faucheux didn’t sound worried.

“Who is going to sue us?” asked Faucheux. “Right now we don’t have asecretary to take minutes at the council meetings, and that is a violation of the charter. We can staff the office with whomever we deemnecessary. The gray area is in the interpretation of the charter. Councilbusiness was not getting done and this is a backup system.”On Monday morning, Landeche reported back to work at the council office.

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