White Castle’s mayor says pay hikes criticized by political foes were properly handled _lowres

White Castle Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams

Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams is defending several pay increases he got last year that have been publicly called into question by former Alderman Garnell Young.

Williams’ annual salary jumped from $28,000 to $50,835 in 2015 through a series of votes by the town’s Board of Aldermen — all of which Williams and the town’s attorney said Tuesday were within the parameters of the laws governing Louisiana municipalities.

And, Williams notes, the pay for the Mayor’s Office during his first term had been $42,240 a year before a previous Board of Aldermen that he said was dominated by his political foes cut it to $28,000 in February 2014.

The current board reinstated the mayor’s salary to $42,240 in February 2015 and approved additional hikes to $50,835 during the course of the year. Williams attributed Young’s complaints about his pay raises to sour grapes over Young’s failed attempt to win re-election in 2014.

“He’s just mad he lost,” Williams said. “It’s like he just wants to defame my character to get me off course of all the positive things I want to do for this town.”

Young did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. However, he told a TV news reporter recently that he felt town officials were hiding something because the town clerk refused to respond to 40 public records request that he submitted last year.

Town Attorney Valencia Vessel-Landry was quoted in the same TV news report as saying she had no recollection of the mayor receiving a pay increase. She said Tuesday she was on maternity leave when the Board of Aldermen approved one of the mayor’s most recent salary bumps.

“The aldermen didn’t need any involvement from me because it was done through budget ordinance,” she said.

Young and fellow resident June Landry, who lost her bid for mayor to Williams in 2014, sued the town in November accusing the town officials of not adhering to the state’s public records laws. They’ve asked a judge to order the officials to produce the numerous records they’ve requested.

Landry declined Tuesday to comment on the pay raise issue, saying it was Young, not her, who had misgivings about it.

The trial in their lawsuit against White Castle over access to public records is set to resume later this month. It had to be recessed because the town’s clerk fell ill on the stand last week and wasn’t able continue her testimony.

The mayor and town attorney on Tuesday provided records to The Advocate detailing how Williams’ pay was increased substantially within the space of a year.

According to minutes from the Feb. 23, 2015, Board of Aldermen meeting, the mayor’s salary was reinstated to $42,240 a year after the previous board reduced it to $28,000 annually during Williams’ first term in office.

Williams said Tuesday the board lowered his salary out of spite in February 2014. A majority of the members serving on the board were replaced following the 2014 elections, he said.

Minutes from that meeting show the Board of Alderman, which included Young at the time, lowered Williams’ salary through the 3-2 approval of an ordinance outlining compensation of the mayor.

Vessel-Landry said Tuesday the newly seated board returned the mayor’s salary back to $42,240 annually last year, suspecting that the previous board’s decision to lower Williams’ salary was done improperly.

She was not the town’s legal counsel at the time, she added.

According to provisions of the Lawrason Act, the comprehensive body of law that governs Louisiana municipalities, the board is prohibited from reducing the salary of an elected official during the middle of his or her term in office.

The mayor got another pay raise in September when the board unanimously approved its fiscal year 2015-16 budget ordinance that bumped Williams’ annual pay to $50,835, according to town records.

Williams said Young and Landry attended all the meetings so they knew why the pay for the Mayor’s Office was raised.

“For them to not even sit down with me and discuss this causes these concerns through the community,” Williams said. “And now they’ve built this wall up with this lawsuit.”

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.