Opelousas’ new mayor seeks $9,000 a year pay increase _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum.

The Opelousas Board of Aldermen approved a $9,000 annual raise for Mayor Reggie Tatum after spirited debate that touched on mayors’ salaries across the state and whether the new mayor has earned it.

The six-member board voted 4-2 to raise Tatum’s pay from $66,000 a year to $75,000, a salary that is $4,000 more than former Mayor Don Cravins made.

Aldermen voting for Tatum’s 14 percent raise: Marvin Richard, J. “Tyrone” Glover, Blair Briggs and Sherell Roberts.

Voting against were Jackie Martin and Julius Alsandor, who weighed in with “an emphatic no” during the roll call vote.

“Our job is to put the city and the people first,” said Alsandor, the most vocal person Tuesday in opposing the pay raise.

Alsandor said Tatum, after less than five months in office, has not had the time to earn a raise. Alsandor also said Tatum knew what the salary was when he ran for office.

Tatum handily beat Cravins, a two-term mayor and former state senator, in a runoff in December, pulling more than 55 percent of the vote. Tatum had been an Opelousas alderman for almost eight years.

Taking over Jan. 1, Tatum now runs a city with a general fund budget of about $20 million.

Defending his request for a raise, Tatum said mayors of smaller Louisiana cities and towns make more money than he.

And ticking off the salaries of Opelousas’ higher-paid employees — Police Chief Donald Thompson at $98,000 and now-retired Fire Chief Lee Cahanin at $115,000 — Tatum said he deserved a raise because he has responsibility over all of city government. At a past meeting, Tatum said there were 15 city employees who made more than he did.

“At the end of the day … I am responsible for what goes on in this city,” Tatum said.

And, Tatum said, Don Cravins’ salary was $71,000, an amount that statutorily was lessened by Cravins for budget reasons but which didn’t kick in until January.

“All I’m asking for is to make what the last mayor did for eight years, with an additional $4,000,” Tatum said.

The chairs in City Hall’s meeting room were filled Tuesday, with others standing during the debate that ran for less than an hour, during which utterings of “that’s right” and “Uh-huh” and applause rang out at times.

“I’m here to say you’re entitled to your raise,” Opelousas resident Warren Babineaux said. “You’re doing a wonderful job.”

Jamon Morgan, an employee with the streets department, told the board to vote their conscience, to do what’s right, and to remember that city employees were barely squeaking by on the pay they receive.

“We’ve been on a collision course with this issue,” he said.