PORT ALLEN —City Council members and the audience on Wednesday night hotly debated a proposal to clearly identify the city government’s department heads, an issue with racial overtones stemming from Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s recent attempt to fire Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain.

Councilman Garry Hubble touched off the clash by asking the council to consider adopting an ordinance to officially give department head status to five employees within the administration.

Hubble identified the jobs as the city’s chief administrative officer, chief financial officer, fire chief, director of public works and chief of police.

Slaughter immediately objected to Hubble’s move in front of the jammed council chamber.

Slaughter, reading from the Lawrason Act, a state law that spells out how municipalities must function, told the crowd that any department head could be created by the council only on her recommendation.

“I have not given the council any written recommendation,” she told Hubble.

“There seems to have been confusion over department heads that needs to be clarified,” he responded.

Slaughter, who took office Jan. 1, fired McCain on Feb. 11 in response to an audit report revealing several accounting deficiencies in Port Allen’s financial records.

However, a state district judge ruled a week later that Slaughter lacked authority to fire McCain because McCain was a city government department head who could lose her job only by a vote of the council.

“The statute says one thing, and it looks like you’re trying to produce something else,” Port Allen resident Wendell Hightower told the council. “Are we ever going to get to the point where we’re going to let the mayor run the city? It looks like we’re trying to make this a publicly racial thing.”

“We live in 2013, we need to bury that,” Rhonda Aucoin, a white resident, fired back at Hightower. “We have all suffered.”

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but let’s be fair,” Hightower said later. “I want to make sure we can put this all behind us and move forward.”

Slaughter’s move to create the job of chief of staff also was called into question Wednesday night, along with her announcement she would hire her brother-in-law as the city’s first chief of staff.

“In the past 60 days, your actions have been an embarrassment to the city,” resident Eva “Bootsie” Crochet told Slaughter.

Reading from a prepared statement, Crochet said, “You are the chief of staff and should accept responsibility. I do not understand why there is the need for this position.”

Slaughter announced on Feb. 13 her intention to hire Ralph Slaughter, who is the former president of the Southern University system, as her chief of staff.

Slaughter described the step as an “emergency situation” the day after firing McCain.

Ralph Slaughter’s appointment was roundly criticized by a majority of City Council members.

Hubble, chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, previously called the attempt to hire Ralph Slaughter a “lawsuit waiting to happen” after Mayor Slaughter said her brother-in-law would serve in a volunteer capacity without pay.

Crochet further questioned the mayor Wednesday night on how much accessibility Ralph Slaughter would have to confidential records, and what liability that would place on the city.

“You do owe the citizens of Port Allen an explanation about his duties,” Crochet said.

The mayor told Crochet she hasn’t done anything incorrectly since she took office on New Year’s Day.

“Now, because I made this decision it’s being said I’m not going through the council,” Slaughter said. “I have councilmen saying, in the past, everything went through the council. The Lawrason Act says not everything has to go through the council. I just want everyone to respect me. I’m asking you guys to work with me, not against me.

“When I sit back and observe everything, it seems like something is wrong because I’m a female and black. It looks like everything I’m doing is not right. But everything I’m doing is according to the Lawrason Act,” Slaughter said.

City Attorney Victor Woods made several attempts to calm the audience as bitter remarks were fired back and forth between white and black residents.

In regard to Hubble’s request to adopt an ordinance naming the five employees as department heads, Woods said, “In reality, it doesn’t matter if you have an ordinance or not with the judge’s ruling, (but) if you want to legislatively create it, you can.”

The council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance during its March 13 meeting.