When the Port Allen City Council voted 3-2 in September not to pay former Mayor Derek Lewis about $19,000 he says he is owed in accrued vacation time, there was an audible reaction in the City Council chamber. Several members of the public said “yes” aloud as the motion failed.
You see, Lewis didn’t leave the job under the best circumstances. He resigned in June shortly before heading over to Baton Rouge federal court to plead guilty to a racketeering charge.
Lewis, 50, admitted he accepted bribes from undercover operatives posing as businessmen who were looking for a city contract. The phony businessmen were pitching an FBI-created garbage can cleaning service known as Cifer 5000.
After the council’s vote, Lewis said he would sue the city to get what he claims he is owed as a former full-time city employee of six years.
Whether Lewis eventually gets paid for his claim is anybody’s guess. The notable part is that the city has been in this position before.
In August 2000, Port Allen’s then-Police Chief Adrian Genre pleaded guilty to a federal perjury charge, ending his eight-year tenure as leader of the Police Department.
In that case, prosecutors said Genre gave only black job applicants a literacy test as a condition of employment. That prompted one black job-seeker to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the chief.
Genre got in trouble when he gave a sworn statement claiming that all job-seekers took the test at the same time and under the same circumstances.
Genre backtracked months later and confessed that he’d previously lied under oath. The truth was that he hired a white applicant and asked only that new employee to take the test some four months later — after the civil rights lawsuit was filed.
At the end of it all, Genre asked that the City Council pay him about $6,000 in unused vacation time, and according to city records, his request was granted.
More recently, Port Allen’s longtime Chief Administrative Officer Barry Brewer left city employment in February planning to use vacation time accrued over 33 years to collect a paycheck through December as a precursor to his retirement.
Then-Mayor Lewis tried to put a stop to that after he discovered a 1992 ordinance prohibiting employees from accumulating more than 60 days of vacation time.
But the City Council voted against Lewis in April and quickly adopted a resolution allowing Brewer and other employees in similar situations to continue collecting unused vacation pay through Jan. 1.
With the flurry of lawsuits, ordinances, resolutions and opinions from the Attorney General’s Office all dealing with employee vacation time that have popped up recently and in years past, the bottom line is that the city needs to take a fresh look at how to handle such matters.
Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence, in particular, has been calling for the city to install a human resources department to handle these issues.
Currently, the city has a casual timekeeping system and just one employee responsible for keeping track of payrolls, retirements and job benefits, said Port Allen Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Cenceria Dalcourt.
“We don’t have a proper human resources department,” she said.
With the city set to elect a new mayor on Oct. 22 to fill the remainder of Lewis’ unexpired term, the winner should make it a priority to look into Lawrence’s human resources department suggestion as well as resolve the employee vacation accrual issue once and for all.
Koran Addo is bureau chief of The Advocate’s Westside bureau in Port Allen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (225) 326-6627.