Pay Raises; One subject keeping Parish Council and President at odds

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By Carolyn Roy

carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

There was a lot of talk but not much substance during the Parish Council meeting Monday that lasted for just over 90 minutes. Tempers flared, accusations were unfounded and rampant, but not much was accomplished. Raises and lack of information on those raises continue to be the subject of much of the unrest at the Parish Council meetings.

The Council continues to question Parish President Rick Nowln’s authority to give raises and believe it should be able to approve those raises. Two potential raises created havoc near the end of the meeting when Council president Pat Ward-Hoover sought a vote on whether the Council should convene into executive session on Item #13 that read: “Executive Session: Personnel Matter: Concerning raises.”

Natchitoches Times reporter Carolyn Roy wanted it on the record she objected to the executive session on grounds that raises and financial matters were not subjects for executive session. Ward-Hoover countered that she felt obligated to seek the executive session since it was requested by Council member Russell Rachal. Rachal said he believed the Council could call the executive session to discuss the personnel who would get the raises.

Roy objected for the second time.

Shantel Wempren, the assistant district attorney who advises the Council, agreed with Roy. Wempren said that a discussion of raises, given with public money, should be discussed in an open meeting. “Mr. Harrington (District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington) sent you a letter to that effect,” Wempren told Ward-Hoover. There was no vote on whether to convene into the closed-door session. The Council argues at nearly every meeting about the Parish President’s authority to give raises at his discretion. Wempren addressed the question in a letter to Council member Rodney Bedgood concerning salaries of department heads. He had wanted to know if it was legal or illegal for Nowlin to have given former Public Works Director Nick Verret a raise without council approval.

Wempren wrote that since Verret’s raise was given three years ago. The Council failed to act on that raise within 30 days as prescribed by the Charter. As for the pending raises, Wempren’s opinion stated that the parish president could “fix” the initial salaries of department heads “subject to Council approval…However, the Charter is silent with regard to the manner in which the Council must express its approval, or disapproval, of a raise.” Her letter stated she believed the parish president should notify the Council, either prior to or immediately following the salary increase for department heads. She suggested that the President should notify the Council regarding appointment or salaries; orally at an open meeting; or as part of a budget proposal, or by memorandum or letter delivered to members of the Parish Council. A motion to pass a resolution requesting a Legislative Audit died for lack of a second. The Council members have tried for three months to find the correct way to request the audit, according to the Home Rule Charter, that states the Council must pass a resolution seeking an audit. Wempren has told the Council it must be specific in listing items it wanted to be in the audit. Wempren said Monday evening that the resolution requesting the audit was unlike a previous resolution the Council passed. “This is a new resolution in essence,” Wempren told Ward-Hoover.

After Ward-Hoover read the lengthy resolution in its entirety, no one on the council would offer a motion to pass it. Nowlin told the Council that Parish Engineer Nick Verret will resign. He has offered to stay with the Parish until he has made revisions to the Coco Bed Project and completed plans for the streets in Payne Subdivision.

Nowlin said he did not know how long that would take. While there is money available for reworking Hampton Road, Nowlin said not much work has been done on it. Red River Waterway committed the funding in the spring of 2016 but Verret was unable to design the project. In other business:

•Nowlin has interviewed candidates for the Head Start director; his choice has been submitted to the district office in Dallas

•Nowlin will interview two candidates for public works director. He hopes to have a recommendation in November.

•The IT manager resigned to take another position; Nowlin said there needs to be an in-house manager and he is investigating whether other courthouse offices may share that expense.

•At the request of Doug de Graffenried, the Council tabled accepting recommendations for insurance carriers; the Council will call a special meeting to consider more information on the type of coverage, deductibles, etc.

•At the suggestion of interim Public Works Director Earl Townsend, the Council will consider closing solid waste and the limb pit on Saturdays because of lack of activity; the Council will decide in November. •Approved appointment of Sherica McDaniel, Anitra McCoy, David Dollar and Kecia McConathy to Head Start Policy Council .