Baton Rouge state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb requested an opinion early this month from the outgoing state Attorney General about whether she could legally hold a part-time job as a deputy clerk of court while retaining her elected office.
Dorsey-Colomb wrote her letter on Jan. 5, just days before the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office began laying off a dozen employees. Her letter indicates she expected to work in the office on a part-time basis.
But contacted this week for comment, both Dorsey-Colomb and the Clerk of Court’s Office spokesman denied an offer was on the table.
The Democratic state senator said she only inquired out of curiosity.
“I just wanted to know,” she said. “It was not a specific thing.”
In her letter, Dorsey-Colomb acknowledges it’s illegal for an elected official to engage in dual office holding by working full-time in a governmental office. But she said she believed she could be allowed to work on a part-time basis.
“Because I will be working part-time, that is less than 7 hours a day, 35 hours a week, it appears that I may serve as a State Senator and concurrently hold a part-time position as Deputy Clerk of Court,” she wrote.
An assistant attorney general, Madeline Carbonette, responded, saying their office believes the move would not violate the dual office holding prohibitions because the position would be part time.
State law prevents elected officials from holding another elected office, or a full-time job with the state government or governmental agencies that are political subdivisions of the state.
Dorsey-Colomb’s letter did not refer to a specific clerk of court’s office. But she previously worked in the East Baton Rouge Parish clerk’s office and has close ties to current Clerk Doug Welborn. She previously ran for the office in 1991, and her daughter is currently employed at the office.
Fred Sliman, spokesman for Welborn, said in an email that their office has “no plans to hire Sen. Yvonne Dorsey or anyone else at this time.”
“The office is under a hiring freeze in conjunction with recent staff reductions and is currently undergoing reorganization and consolidation in several areas,” Sliman said. “No arrangement for potential future employment have been made or discussed respective to the Senator.”
Last October, when Welborn was running for his seventh re-election bid, Dorsey-Colomb came out as a strong supporter. She posted on her Facebook page at least two lengthy pieces about her support and friendship with Welborn. The Facebook page, which was up earlier this week, was taken down as of Friday when Dorsey-Colomb spoke to a reporter.
In October, Dorsey-Colomb posted a PDF on her Facebook page that appeared to be campaign ad with her photo titled “Here’s Why I’m voting for Doug Welborn.”
She noted in the ad that she knows the Clerk of Court’s office like “the back of my hand” because she worked there for 15 years.
She writes that she met Welborn 24 years ago, and they became friends.
“Doug is a kind, gentle and caring man. We’ve been fast friends ever since,” she wrote. “I admire and approve of the way Doug has carefully built a highly trained, qualified and dedicated staff that fully reflects the make up of our community. He has created a modern office that is efficient, friendly and responsive.”
That same day, she posted another Facebook item titled “My Unequivocal Endorsement of Doug Welborn for EBR Clerk of Court,” in which she distanced herself from Welborn’s most recent political opponent in the race, Sarah Holliday James. Dorsey-Colomb also appeared to respond to criticism that her endorsement of Welborn was somehow linked to her daughter’s employment in the office.
“My children work in many places,” she wrote. “That has never influenced me.”
In a phone interview, Dorsey-Colomb said her interest was piqued when she saw another legislator receive a similar opinion about working part time for a government agency in a different parish.
She said her letter was written as though she were planning to take a job because the Attorney General’s Office wouldn’t respond to hypothetical questions.
Dorsey-Colomb said she’s already got a full-time job with Baton Rouge Community College and has her hands full as a legislator.
“But I’m not going to say I have no interest in it,” she said. “People ask me all the time to run for that office because I worked there for 15 years before. I have no intention of running for the office again, but you can never say never.”
Welborn recently laid off a dozen employees, citing budget shortfalls over the past two years. The layoffs were criticized by some of the ex-employees who said Welborn’s administration is misspending funds and has been padding their own salaries while other employees received no cost-of-living raises.
A public records request revealed that some administrators had received pay increases to the tune of 45 percent from 2010 to 2014.
The office also is being investigated by the state Inspector General’s Office for questionable use of government funds related to travel, lavish meals and goods purchased at sporting and outdoor stores.