Lawsuits against the city-parish from former Parish Attorney Mary Roper and her husband, Eiad Odeh, are costing the city more money and time than originally anticipated.
The Parish Attorney’s Office will ask the Metro Council in upcoming weeks to add $90,000 to a contract with attorney Murphy Foster of Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson to cover legal fees. Foster already has a $170,000 contract to defend the city from Roper’s lawsuits, but legal fees to date have exceeded that amount and the city-parish expects them to grow this year.
Foster’s contract with the city-parish covers four separate legal proceedings from Roper, according to the request to add the contract to the Metro Council agenda.
Metro Council members fired Roper at a contentious meeting in September of 2014, when some accused her of mismanagement in her office and inappropriately sharing proprietary information related to city-parish software — accusations she denied.
In November of 2014, Roper fired off lawsuits against the city-parish, the council administrator’s office and five Metro Council members for not responding to public records requests.
Odeh, her husband, a former employee of the city-parish’s Department of Public Works, filed a lawsuit against the city-parish in December of 2014 seeking damages for what he described as racial discrimination and defamation.
And in April 2015, Roper filed a defamation lawsuit against Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and the city-parish. She accused Loupe of publicly linking her to alleged criminal activity that was later used as a reason for her firing.
Roper received a misdemeanor summons in September 2015. Investigators said they found that parish attorney email accounts were being illegally accessed, and traced the access to Roper’s home IP address.
Denham Springs public safety chiefs to remain under civil service
After a divided Denham Springs City Council rejected the mayor’s bid to remove the city’s police chief and fire chief from civil service protection Tuesday, state Sen. Dale Erdey said he won’t press forward with a bill he had prefiled in the state Legislature to accomplish the task.
Senate Bill 43 would have created an exception in state law to convert the city’s two public safety chiefs to unclassified positions. The proposed law, as drafted, would not have applied to the men currently holding those titles: Police Chief Scott Jones and Fire Chief Melvin Wheat.
“We’re going to park it and not go anywhere with it at this time, unless the council has a change of mind,” Erdey said Friday of the bill, which was pending with the Senate’s Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs.
Mayor Gerard Landry said he backed the proposal because he wanted to run the city more like a business and saw no reason for two of his department heads to be treated differently than the rest.
But representatives of the public safety services told the council Tuesday that stripping the chiefs of civil service protection would expose them to undue political influence and could lead to selective enforcement of the laws.
“The heart of civil service is to separate the classified employees of the fire and police departments from the influence of political powers,” said Sgt. John Gillespie, the chairman and Police Department representative on the city’s civil service board. “If you remove the chiefs from classified service,… in essence you are chopping off the head of the service.”
The vote against the proposal was 3-2, with Councilmen Rene Delahoussaye, Chris Davis and Jeff Wesley, who formerly served as the city’s police chief, voting against. Council members Lori Lamm-Williams and Robert Poole supported the change.
Vehicle policy change pays off for Ascension schools
Last year, the Ascension Parish school district decided to leasing vans for its maintenance employees, replacing the years-old practice of employees driving their own trucks and getting reimbursed for mileage.
Turns out, the change brought the savings the district anticipated.
Maintenance Supervisor Jeff Parent said a reimbursement rate of as much as 56 cents per mile — the same rate federal workers get — meant the district was up to $270,000 a year for gas alone.
In contrast, the cost to lease a fleet of vans is $196,000, and maintenance employees are now filling up using cards that are valid at fueling stations where fuels is available at lower state pricing rates, Parent said. The annual fuel costs to the district are now running $50,000, he said.
One School Board member said a maintenance worker told him the new vans, outfitted with convenient bins for tools and equipment — along with a bump in pay the workers got last year — are the best things ever to happen on the job.
Advocate staff writers Andrea Gallo, Heidi Kinchen and Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this article.