St. John Council passes 2014 budget minus raises

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 1, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE – It was down to the wire on Monday as the St. John the Baptist Parish Council finally passed a 2014 budget during a special meeting just one day before the Dec. 31 deadline.

After a 45-minute recess to start the meeting, the vast majority of time was on spent on contentious discussion regarding the budget, especially Parish President Natalie Robottom’s proposal to grant 5 percent raises to herself as well as department heads and other nonclassified employees.

The proposal for raises has stalled progress in the Council meetings since October and has resulted in the Council calling several special sessions.

During the course of the meeting, Councilwoman Cheryl Millet said, “I know a lot of work goes in the budget. The fact that we don’t have the ability to communicate has gotten us to this point.”

Robottom made clear in correspondence to the L’Observateur that the 2014 budget is the first budget that she has overseen that has included a raise for the parish president. Previous raises approved by the Council for former parish presidents have totaled as much as $30,000. Robottom’s proposed 5 percent raise would have added $7,000 to her salary, taking it to more than $150,000.   

The salary increases proposed, for Robottom as well as 19 employees, totaled $55,445, or 0.094 percent of the total expenditures of the budget.

Millet made motions to keep both the parish president’s and unclassified employee’s salaries at the same amount as 2013. Only Councilman Lucien Gauff III voted against the motions. Both councilman Michael Wright and Councilman Marvin Perrilloux were absent from the meeting.

Gauff spoke to the Council before the votes and voiced that he felt it was unfair that administrators and directors would not get raises, while those workers who they supervised would be getting pay increases. Classified employees receive mandated raises each year.

But other members of the Council saw things differently.

“No job I ever worked at guaranteed me a raise every year,” said Councilman Lennix Madere. “Regardless if I had a raise or not, I performed my job”, he added, “I expect the same thing of unclassified employees.”

After the decisions were made, Robottom addressed the Council. “Just for clarification, there has never been a question whether or not we would work without a pay raise”, Robottom said, “We will continue to work for the people of the parish.”

After the meeting adjorned, Robottom was visibly unhappy about the actions of the Council.

“It’s not about money. It’s about control. They want to run the show”, Robottom said. “Part of their control is they’d like to run administration.”

As for the unclassified staff not getting raises, Robottom said she will continue to pursue the matter. While it is clear the Council sets the salary for the parish president, she said that she thought the Council overstepped its’ authority by setting the salaries for her staff. She said that she is awaiting a decision from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office on the matter.

While the budget discussions took up the majority of meeting time, it was not the only item on the agenda that created contentious discussion between Robottom and the Council. An additional item was a Dec. 26 parish holiday hastily approved by the Council at its Dec. 23 meeting.

Legal counsel confirmed the authority of the Council to declare holidays, but its declaration came the day before two established holidays. This caused some problems with parish administration, particularly because Dec. 26 was a payroll day.

“Council has the authority to grant additional holidays,” District Attorney Tom Daley said, “But listen, people have to work in order to serve the people of this parish. ”

He asked the Council to be mindful of workloads that need to be completed when granting additional holidays.

The Council asked Daly if Robottom had authority to grant holidays, and mention was made of emails that Robottom sent out to parish workers the day before Thanksgiving and the day before Good Friday that called for half-days of work.

“The parish president doesn’t have authority to declare a holiday,” Daly said.

Daly added, however, that Robottom does have the authority to close her office. Members of the Council grumbled that it was a matter of semantics.

The discussion was another example of the frosty relationship between the Council and Robottom.

Regarding the recent back-and-forth between the Parish Council and administration, Robottom had a message for the Council, “Can you focus on something that would benefit the residents? Let’s not play the game.”

The next Council meeting is set for Jan. 14 in Edgard at 6:30 p.m.