PORT ALLEN — Black and white residents urged city leaders Wednesday night to put an end to the racial tension spilling over into the community blamed on repeated clashes among Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter, the City Council’s white majority and certain members of the city administration.
Since Slaughter took office in January, escalating disagreements along racial lines have polarized regular attendees of council meetings, with black people often defending the mayor against criticism heaped on the Slaughter administration by white residents.
“If it’s a black-and-white issue, that was in the 1960s. It’s time for us to get along and move on,” Doloris Kibby, a black woman, told Port Allen city leaders at the start of Wednesday night’s council meeting. “If we trust in God and love him like we should, we should be one. We should try to move on. It’s time to move on.”
Kibby was followed by a white man, Ray Stumbo, who asked the audience in the densely packed council chambers to engage in an exercise he called “race reversal.”
Stumbo listed several of the most controversial actions taken by Slaughter, the city’s first black female mayor, and asked members of the audience if their feelings would change if Slaughter were “an inexperienced white female mayor” instead.
Since she assumed office in January, Slaughter and the majority-white City Council have clashed over four major issues:
- The mayor’s attempt to fire city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain, who is white.
- The mayor’s move to create a chief of staff position and appoint Ralph Slaughter, her brother-in law, to serve without pay in that capacity.
- The mayor’s decision giving herself a $20,000 annual pay hike without council approval.
- The heavy criticism of the mayor for attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration at public expense.
Several of the mayor’s actions are currently under investigation by the state’s Legislative Auditor’s Office.
“I suspect each and every one of us have varying degrees of ethnic consideration when we’re faced with race,” Stumbo said. “So does that make us all a bunch of racists? If you completely changed your position based on the race of the individuals in this reversal exercise, I say shame on you.”
Stumbo, in reference to the legislative auditor’s investigation, said, “Whatever the outcome, we need to make a promise we close the book on all this mess.”
Frederick Everson, a black man, followed Stumbo by saying, “The problem is the city government. Y’all need to get y’all’s stuff together — not us. You guys have to come together. We’re already together.”
Shortly after the meeting’s public comment period, the City Council voted along racial lines 3-2 to approve an ordinance identifying four positions within the city administration as department heads.
The council’s three white councilmen — R.J. Loupe, Hugh “Hootie” Riviere and Garry Hubble — voted in favor of giving the city’s chief administrative officer, chief financial officer, fire chief and chief of police status as department heads.
Council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown, who are black, voted against the measure.
Adoption of the department head ordinance was seen, in part, as a move to prevent Chief Financial Officer McCain from being summarily dismissed by Slaughter without council consent.
Hubble said previously he presented the ordinance to the council to clarify who had department head status with the city to avoid any future confusion over the matter.
“It’s too late for them to try and go back and say they are department heads,” Slaughter said after the meeting.
In response to the residents’ comments about the current state of race relations in Port Allen, Slaughter added:“This really started when the former mayor hired (Adrian) Genre. That’s when the racism kicked in (and) it has just been an overflow from there. Right now we’re just buried under something.”
Slaughter referred to former Police Chief Adrian Genre, who pleaded guilty in a civil-rights lawsuit in which he admitted to prejudicial hiring practices that favored white over black applicants.
Former Mayor Roger Bergeron last year hired Genre as the city’s chief administrative officer. Slaughter subsequently defeated Bergeron in last fall’s elections and took over as mayor Jan. 1.