SORRENTO — New Police Chief Fern Barnett could not attend Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, the last public forum before a Nov. 4 referendum that could eliminate her department, because she was busy baby-sitting.
Mayor Mike Lambert read a typed letter from Barnett, who apologized for not making the meeting. “I was already committed to babysit for my granddaughter, who is on the night shift this month, and she was unable to find someone else for tonight,” Lambert read.
Barnett, who became the town’s police chief after two other candidates dropped out of the Nov. 4 election for the position, was sworn into office Tuesday afternoon. She asked for and received keys to the Police Department, Lambert said.
Barnett, a former Sorrento police clerk, will complete the unfinished term of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. That could change, however, if town residents vote to abolish the Police Department and the position of police chief.
Theriot resigned in February as part of a plea agreement to a federal charge of lying to an FBI agent about inappropriate sexual contact with a woman he picked up while on duty.
The woman’s lawsuit claims Theriot assaulted her in his office and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Theriot claims it was consensual.
Theriot’s term ends June 30, 2017.
If voters decide to abolish the department and the position, Barnett has said she will consider stepping down. Town officials have said she could serve out the remainder of Theriot’s term if the department is eliminated, but she would not have an agency to direct. If Barnett did step down, the position of police chief would be abolished.
Barnett’s letter to the mayor and Town Council also touched on her plans for the one-woman Police Department.
“My only plan at this time is to speak to Jerry Cronin about the insurance,” Barnett said in the letter, explaining she has a tentative appointment the day after the election with the general manager of Risk Management Inc., the former insurance provider for the police department.
“Any plans I have made are dependent upon the outcome of the election and the requirements that will be necessary to obtain insurance,” Barnett wrote.
Risk Management officials have said the department failed to meet underwriting requirements, but town officials have cited an excessive number of claims as the reason the insurance company ended the agency’s policies.
Councilman Marvin Martin asked how Barnett’s position as police chief will affect the town’s agreement with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The town has been paying the sheriff’s office for nearly a year for police protection and Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley has offered to permanently take over for an annual rate of $354,000, but only if he is the sole law enforcement officer in town.
Lambert said “everything is pending” on the Nov. 4 election and that he has encouraged Barnett to schedule a meeting with Wiley.