Proposed pay hike for Parish Treasurer has Nowlin questioning councilman’s motives

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

A Parish Council member is mad about a proposed 12 percent raise for the parish treasurer and has taken on Parish President Rick Nowlin. Nowlin recoiled with some harsh words of his own when contacted by the Natchitoches Times for a comment about Parish Councilman Doug deGraffenreid’s accusations. T

he controversy began when Nowlin requested that Human Resources Coordinator Cathy Creamer send Parish Council members, by email Sept. 19, a letter detailing his reasons for the proposed raise for Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart. Nowlin said in his letter that if anyone had an objection, they could call him. deGraffenreid, on Monday, sent by email copies of the letter from Nowlin, as well as his own email response to Creamer, to local news media. deGraffenreid objected “strenuously” to the raise saying that the emails did not constitute a vote and the matter should have been handled in an open meeting. He said Nowlin had no authority to authorize the raise and his reasons for it were “farcical.”

“We are going to give an employee a huge raise for doing her job? What about the other people in administration? What about the folks working on the roads? The voters of our Parish deserve better from the Parish President. No wonder the folks on Bermuda Road can’t get their road fixed, we are attempting to give huge salary increases to Department heads. Actually it appears we are trying to slide a huge salary increase around the Parish Council while trying to hide behind you (Creamer) as the sender of the original email. I am incredulous that this matter would be brought up in this manner. I object to this proposed action strenuously.”

Nowlin did not take deGraffenreid’s criticism very well.

Nowlin said about deGraffenreid, “Others may think his self-righteous indignation is an attempt to influence the election of the next Parish President. Who really cares? I do not.”

Nowlin said that he would have appreciated deGraffenreid contacting him with his thoughts about the raise. If there is broad opposition, he will not go forward with the raise. Nowlin said he proposed Oct. 1 as the effective date for the raise if it is approved by the council at its meeting Oct. 21. If it is approved, the next payday would be Oct. 31.

As for deGraffenreid’s claim that the raise was “ludricrous” and ”farcical,” Nowlin said the councilman made no attempt to call him but instead sent the email criticizing Nowlin to the media. “The people of our Parish deserve better from a council member,” Nowlin said. He thinks the attempt to tie Bermuda Road to the raise is bizarre.

Nowlin said he could have taken money from the general fund for highway repairs and could have asked the council for a budget amendment to do so. He said deGraffenreid’s charge that he was trying to slide the raise around the council was ridiculous since the proposal was distributed to the council on the Parish President letterhead. As for using Cramer to send the emails, Nowlin said that had deGraffenreid checked, he would have learned that the executive assistant was out of the office and he asked Creamer to do so.

Nowlin said he seemingly accused Creamer of participating in some sort of shady deal and she deserved better treatment. Nowlin said he planned to notify council members of his thoughts in another letter sometime this week. Lockhart’s current salary is $67,200 and the raise would boost it to $75,264. Nowlin stated in his letter that salaries of department heads are subject to approval of the Parish Council. He asked that anyone with objections contact him, otherwise the raise will go into effect Oct. 1.

Lockhart was named the Parish Treasurer by a unanimous vote of the council at the May 20 meeting and went to work in early June. Nowlin named several reasons for recommending the raise including Lockhart working with the Parish auditor on the 2018 audit; and completing the closeout of the Head Start books and program that required numerous meetings with the staff working long days and weekends.

The letter stated that Lockhart and her staff were responsible for negotiating with the new Head Start grantee to cover projected unemployment payments that could have been as high as $300,000 over the next two years. “All the while, Ms. Lockhart had the task of managing the implementation of the new accounting software and training herself and her staff on how to use it,” the letter read.

Nowlin wrote that her current salary is far below what you could expect for her level of expertise and performance and was well below the salary paid to the former treasurer.