The St. Bernard Parish Council and embattled first-term Parish President David Peralta on Thursday reached something that’s become increasingly rare lately in parish government: a compromise.
In a brief joint statement, the two sides said they have agreed to a new process for handling salary increases for parish employees.
For the next six months, any raises granted by Peralta will need to be certified by parish Finance Director Ross Gonzales and the council’s Executive Finance Committee before taking effect.
The process “ensures that funds are available (and) all raises are agreed upon by all parties,” the statement said, adding that any “differences between the Parish Council and administration can be managed in a mutually agreeable manner for the overall betterment of St. Bernard Parish.”
Thursday’s agreement resolves a dispute between the council and Peralta that boiled over during a heated discussion at the council’s meeting last week. Peralta had previously vetoed a measure to freeze salaries that the council approved last month. The measure also would have directed Peralta to produce a record of salary increases implemented in the past six months, an extra step that’s apparently off the table now.
During last week’s meeting, council members seemed generally to accept Peralta’s rationale for vetoing the measure: that state law gives him discretion in spending money as long as it is within the total authorized by the council through the budget.
They asked him to withdraw his veto anyway, but he refused.
After a tense back-and-forth between Peralta and several council members, Chairman Guy McInnis introduced a motion to ask the state Attorney General’s Office or Legislative Auditor’s Office to investigate whether any raises were granted in departments that didn’t immediately have the money available, which he said would be a violation of the parish’s charter.
Though that resolution passed 6-0, McInnis agreed Thursday to ask the council to vote to withdraw that request.
Peralta estimated that about $237,300 in raises were given to employees this year that could carry over to next year’s budget.
The dispute over the budget comes as Peralta is embroiled in personal legal difficulties.
He was indicted by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish in September on a charge of stalking his ex-wife. Five months earlier, a grand jury in St. Bernard had handed up a sexual battery charge against him in connection with a 2013 incident involving Sharon Schaefer, who was then his wife.
Peralta has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.