PORT ALLEN — An audit report released this week asserts that the City Council has decided not to force former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter to repay thousands of dollars in public funds she used to pay lawyers in the multitude of civil lawsuits she had lodged against her before she was recalled from office.
However, several council members say they are still weighing their options when it comes to trying to recover the legal fees as the city still faces a nearly $50,000 legal bill it has yet to pay for Slaughter.
“We haven’t totally come to a complete agreement on that,” Councilman Hugh “Hootie” Riviere said. “We’ve gone into executive session several times to discuss these exact matters … to try and see which direction we can go.”
However, an audit of the city’s 2014 fiscal year, released by the state’s Legislative Auditor’s Office on Monday, indicated the City Council has decided not to seek restitution.
“During the prior year audit we noted that the city had paid and been billed by several law firms for representing the former mayor in civil court,” auditors wrote in the report. “We noted that in his judgment on July 31, 2013, Judge Alvin Batiste Jr. enjoined and prohibited the mayor from paying lawyers with funds belonging to the city of Port Allen unless she was granted authority.”
Auditors had recommended the City Council review all the legal bills the ousted mayor had accrued to determine whether the council should force Slaughter to repay any money she had already expensed for her legal defense.
“The City Council has not sought restitution for fees already paid and determined it is not in the interest of the city to pursue the matter,” auditors said in the report.
But Riviere says the council’s inaction so far is more the result of taking a cautious approach on the issue to ensure city leaders are doing the right thing.
“We just want to make sure, legally, we’re covering our bases before we take the next step,” he said. “I don’t want to be accused of misappropriating public funds.”
Councilman Garry Hubble, chairman of the council’s personnel and finance committee, added, “We can still decide which way we’re going to go with it. That’s still all up in the air.”
Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain said Slaughter wrote checks for “several thousand dollars” to the lawyers that represented her in several civil cases she was fighting simultaneously during her 11-month tenure as mayor.
And the city received a bill of more than $48,000 from Baton Rouge law firm Phelps and Dunbar just days after she was recalled from office in November 2013.
The Baton Rouge law firm had represented Slaughter in her early court proceedings in a wrongful termination lawsuit McCain filed when Slaughter tried to fire her a month after Slaughter entered office.
McCain said the city has yet to pay Phelps and Dunbar because the City Council hasn’t authorized her to do so.
“If they sue us for the money, we’ll just have to defend it, but it has been two years and they haven’t filed anything,” she said.
In other matters, auditors cited the city for overdue utility accounts that were not adequately monitored. The audit also noted the council was nearly six months late in adopting a 2014 fiscal year budget because of strife between council members and Slaughter.
The report also said the city has not made payments to a bond sinking fund and may be in violation of its bond covenants.
“I was satisfied,” Hubble said of the audit. “We’re all working together to correct anything that needs to be corrected. We’re all a cohesive group with the current mayor.”
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