St. John Council debates proposed raises

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 9, 2013

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council held a special meeting this week to discuss the proposed 2014 budget recently presented by Parish President Natalie Robottom and her administration, and unsurprisingly raises budgeted for Robottom and others in the administration dominated talk in the council chambers Wednesday.
Council member Marvin Perrilloux began the discussion with a motion to freeze the salaries of Robottom and non-classified employees at 2013 rates. According to Robottom, the proposed budget contains 5 percent raises for her and several members of her staff. If accepted, Robottom’s salary would increase by about $7,000 to more than $150,000. She last received a raise in 2012, when her salary was increased from $139,000 to $143,000, where it stands today. No representatives from the administration were present for the meeting.
Others on the council wondered if Perrilloux’s motion was necessary because of already-passed resolutions and ordinances.
“Why are we doing this?” asked council member Cheryl Millet. “We already have things in place to keep this from happening, right?”
At this point, the Council sought the advice of attorney Jeff Perilloux, who said, “According to the charter, in order for the parish president to receive a raise, it requires two-thirds approval by the Council.”
What the charter does not stipulate, however, is whether that approval must come in a separate vote or if it can be part of the general budget vote.
Because of this ambiguity, council member Michael Wright suggested, “If we are uneasy about the ordinance, let’s just go through with the motion.”
Regarding the raises for non-classified employees, the Council earlier passed an ordinance requiring all such raises to be approved by the Council outside of the normal budget process, according to Jeff Perilloux.
After further review of applicable ordinances and resolutions by both Perilloux and District Attorney Tom Daley, the council unanimously passed the motion to freeze the raises for the time being, but not before council member Ranney Wilson said, “We don’t have to give the parish president a raise, period.”
After this, the discussion veered onto the topic of car allowances. Council member Larry Snyder said he thinks it is not right that some in the parish government receive a car allowance and have access to parish vehicles.
Council Chair Jaclyn Hotard said, “It’s a problem. It should be one or the other.”
Council member Lucien Gauff said the Council should proceed with caution if it wants to change the rules on the matter because sometimes the use of public vehicles is necessitated by outside factors such as high water.
“At what point does it change the use of the vehicle?” he asked, before adding, “The double-dipping part is a concern for all of us.”
After being warned that the discussion was swerving too far from the agenda, the council agreed to take up the matter in the future.
Other budget-related topics discussed by the Council included a budget message that did not comply with what is required in the charter, the lack of a clear funding source for the Department of Public Safety and expenditures set aside for zoning violations.
Hotard said these and other matters will likely be addressed at future public workshops, but some on the council already had a clear vision of what they would like to see in the budget.
“The administration is to make this budget crystal clear … before I vote on this budget,” said Marvin Perrilloux.
Wilson then put an exclamation point on the proceedings by noting, “This Council is accountable for this budget.”