New Livingston Parish Council members hoping to build positive working relationship with parish administration _lowres

Maurice 'Scooter' Keen

A Livingston Parish councilman introduced an ordinance Tuesday night that would allow the council's pay to increase over time without asking the members to take what has been a politically unpopular step of giving themselves a raise.

A state law establishes the maximum amount a parish council member can be paid. Maurice "Scooter" Keen's ordinance, which was a compromise, would set compensation at 75 percent of the state's maximum amount. 

Livingston Parish councilmen are paid $1,200 a month, while the state's maximum is $1,600. That means the councilmen's salaries would remain the same until the Legislature raises the statutory limit, which has been in place since 2008.

The parish's home rule charter says the council is in charge of members' salaries. Any change takes effect in the next council term, which would be in 2020. Members cannot amend their pay in the final year of their term, according to the charter.

The Livingston council last received a raise in 2002, when members increased their pay from $800 to $1,200, according to the ordinance. Since then, the council has lost health insurance as a benefit.

"I was looking at this from a way of taking the politics out of it," said Keen, of Denham Springs.

The ordinance was introduced Tuesday night with a 7-1 vote. Shane Mack cast the dissenting vote, and Tab Lobell was not present. The council will vote on whether to adopt the ordinance after a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 14.

Waston-area Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert, an ally of Keen's on the issue, said the new ordinance would be a good way to keep the members' pay in step with cost of living increases over time.

"We’re trying to solve a problem without giving people ammunition to say we’re giving ourselves a raise," he said. 

Council members said public backlash has ensued in the past when earlier councils have brought up increasing their pay. Because of that, members were emphatic that the move Tuesday did not constitute a pay raise in their view.

Council Chairman Tracy Girlinghouse said during his campaign he would not vote to give himself a raise. During the meeting he defended his vote in favor of the ordinance as being in line with his earlier statements, calling it a housekeeping matter. 

“It's not a raise. It's not even a raise in any way, shape or form," he said, noting that council pay from here on would be pegged to the amount set by the state, which would not change the amount for now.

R.C. "Bubba" Harris, who defeated Joan Landry — the last person to raise the issue of council pay — for his seat on the council, also made statements during his campaign that he would not vote for a pay raise.

“I didn’t give myself a raise,” he said when asked after the meeting about his vote in favor of the new ordinance. “It did take the politics out of it, which is a good thing.”

The only council member to vote against the ordinance was Mack, who during the meeting questioned why the pay issue was being discussed.

"Can we afford that? Is that our priority?" Mack asked at the meeting. "We’ve got so many problems out there that need to be fixed and taken care of."

Girlinghouse after the meeting accused Mack of using the moment to grandstand.

“This was a rational piece of legislation,” he said. “It shocked me.”

Keen had originally planned to introduce an ordinance that would have set council members' pay to equal the state's maximum of $1,600 and automatically adjust as that figure changed. Keen said he changed the ordinance in order to gain more support from the council and removing the political issue was more important to him than changing the pay amount.

Talbert and Keen said after the meeting they were in favor of Keen's original ordinance that would have given a $400 monthly raise to the parish council, which would take effect next term. They said a higher salary could make running for council more appealing. The men, who are both self-employed, noted that some council members have to take time off their jobs in order to attend meetings.

"There are guys that in essence have to take a day off work to go represent their constituents," Talbert said.

Keen, who owns a dry cleaning business, said there were few people who would work for 15 years without receiving a raise. He has said he often works two to three hours daily on council issues and notes there is no additional reimbursement for mileage.

Councilmen in Ascension Parish are paid $1,600, while Metro Council members in East Baton Rouge Parish make $1,000 with an $800 car allowance. In St. Helena Parish, Police Jury members make $1,600 plus up to $200 for expenses.

The council also took up the following other business:

• Talbert introduced an ordinance to raise commercial and residential construction permit fees. Commercial fees would jump from $150 to $200 for heating and air, plumbing, electrical and roofing permits. Residential fees for those same types of permits would go from $100 to $150. Talbert said the increased fees would pay for a new, electronic permitting system, which would allow people to apply, schedule inspections and check the status of their permits online. He said it would also resolve a recurring audit problem the parish has faced due to improperly numbered permits.

• Talbert also introduced the proposed 2018 budget to the council. The $52.66 million budget projects continued increases in sales tax.

• Marshal Joe Schumate asked the council’s permission to levy a $10 fee on all court filings in Ward 2 and Ward 7 city courts to maintain a new court computer system. The council voted to introduce an ordinance from Councilman John Wascom to allow for the fee hikes.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.