NEW ROADS —The lingering question of how a part-time employee was allowed to continue working in the Pointe Coupee Parish Utility Department for two years after the Police Jury had nullified her job slot was referred back to the jury’s Personnel Committee on Tuesday.
The issue touched off several explosive outbursts among jurors when it was debated during the Police Jury’s regular meeting.
The tensions began when Juror Clifford “Ted” Nelson asked that the minutes from the Police Jury’s Jan. 22 meeting be amended. He referred to a section in which he said he had told the part-time employee she could continue working for the parish as long as she didn’t clock more than 32 hours per pay period.
Nelson told the jury Tuesday night he meant to say the “staff” told the employee about the part-time restrictions on her position.
Issues over the part-time worker, identified in previous reports as Patrice Greenhouse, were brought to light at the jury’s Jan. 22 meeting.
Juror Justin Cox had asked the jury to address Greenhouse’s continued employment because he felt the parish may be obligated to pay her health care benefits because she was accruing as many as 72 hours during some pay periods.
Upon further investigation, Cox said at the Jan. 22 meeting, he discovered the position held by Greenhouse had been nullified by the Police Jury in August 2010.
“I misspoke at the last Police Jury meeting,” Nelson said Tuesday night.
But Cox charged that Nelson and Parish Administrator Jim Bello tried to coerce Jury Secretary Gerrie Martin into altering the Jan. 22 meeting minutes without tipping off other Police Jury members.
“As I understand it, Gerrie played a recording of what he said and she was directed to put something in the minutes other than what she was listening to,” Cox said.
Martin said she refused to get into a “he say, she say” debate about what occurred. “I don’t feel like I need to be on trial,” Martin said during the meeting.
Reading from a book outlining the protocols and procedures of Robert’s Rules of Order, Jury President Melanie Bueche said the jury needed to be made aware that meeting minutes aren’t official records until they are approved by a vote of jury members because changes can be made.
“It’s good practice for the secretary to note somewhere on the distribution copy that it is a draft for approval at the next regular meeting,” Bueche read aloud. “They should include what was done at the meeting and not necessarily what was said.”
Bueche said it has been the parish’s custom to include dialogue from Police Jury meetings in the minutes.
“Some jurors do call and say they’d like for the minutes to reflect this instead of that; this is not an abnormal thing,” she said.
The amended meetings were ultimately approved by the jury on a 6-5 vote. Jurors Cox, Albert “Dewey” Dukes, Glenn Ray Cline, Kurt Jarreau and Allen Monk chose to abstain from voting until they could read a hard copy of the amended minutes.
Juror Cornell Dukes was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.
A second argument over the part-time employee issue arose later in the meeting when Jury Vice President Russell Young began discussing the parish’s chain of command.
Young said certain jurors were being “unprofessional” because they approached parish employees directly on issues instead going through the parish administrator.
Things heated up when Young accused Cox of trying to sabotage the Police Jury with all his recent allegations.
“I’m tired of it,” Young told Cox. “You are running poor Gerrie crazy. It’s wrong. Employees are scared to talk. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. This is the first time in 20 years I had to defend the minutes.”
Cox responded by saying the truth would prevail in the end.
“Some people have been doing wrong for so long they think wrong is the right way,” Cox said. “This thing with the part-time employee is a prime example.”
After more than 20 minutes of back-and-forth name calling and accusations among jurors, members voted 6-5 to send the matter back to the Personnel Committee for further discussion.
Jurors Cox, Cline, Albert Dukes, Jarreau and John Pourciau voted against the proposition.
Cox recalled that the Personnel Committee voted Jan. 31 to reinstate the department’s part-time job slot.
“How can you send this back to Personnel when one of the main persons involved in this also sits on that committee?” Cox wanted to know.
Bueche said she didn’t feel Nelson should vote on the matter in the committee meeting.