SORRENTO — The Town Council agreed Tuesday to a long-term contract for police protection with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, even while its police chief continues to serve in office.
Voters agreed on Nov. 4 to abolish the town’s Police Department as well as the position of police chief, but Police Chief Fern Barnett can legally serve until June 30, 2017.
And on Tuesday, she asked the council to request the Sheriff’s Office activate a police radio for her to listen to at her office, as long as there is no cost associated with it.
Barnett is serving the remainder of the term of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who resigned in February amidst a sex scandal and lying to federal authorities.
If Barnett chooses to resign, the position of police chief will end immediately.
Barnett said Tuesday she has still not decided if she will resign.
Lambert said after the meeting that the Town Council is still refusing to pay Barnett the $37,810 a year police chief salary.
Meanwhile, the town will pay $353,832 a year to the sheriff’s office for round-the-clock protection. The sheriff’s office has the option of increasing its annual contract rate no more than 5 percent after 2016.
Despite that contract and claims by Mayor Mike Lambert and Town Council members that Barnett, 71, does not perform any real police work, she insists she is performing a public service.
Barnett submitted a list of jobs she has performed as police chief, including answering phones, boxing and storing evidence, completing paperwork and conducting computer data entry.
“I’m not just sitting here,” Barnett said. “I’m doing work.”
Barnett also said she met with Risk Management Inc. General Manager Jerry Cronin on Tuesday about its former policy with the department.
The sheriff’s office has been policing Sorrento’s streets after Risk Management in November 2013 declined to continue liability coverage for the department’s officers and vehicles, largely because of the excessive number of claims.
The police department, which no longer has any staff, except for Barnett, is existing on borrowed time, with the Town Council taking action Tuesday on several items to hasten its closing.
Council members authorized Lambert to purchase nearly $20,000 of tractor equipment and mowers instead of spending state grant funding on an addition to the Town Hall to house police department evidence.
Council members also discussed selling police department items, such as police vehicles, at surplus.