SORRENTO — In a matter that may end up in court, a motion before the Town Council to pay new Police Chief Fern Barnett the same monthly income earned by disgraced former Chief Earl Theriot Jr. failed Thursday for lack of a second.
Councilman Randy Anny’s motion to pay Barnett $37,810 annually, including insurance and benefits but without state supplemental pay, died on the floor after Barnett admitted during the meeting she had no plans to share on how to get the defunct department up and running again.
“When I get a plan, I’ll let you know,” Barnett told the Town Council.
Barnett, 71, became chief in late October after two other candidates running to complete the remainder of Theriot’s term dropped out of the race.
But voters on Tuesday decided to abolish the Police Department and the police chief’s position after a series of embarrassing mistakes, including the loss of the department’s liability insurance nearly one year ago and Theriot’s resignation in February as part of a plea agreement to a charge of lying to an FBI officer over “inappropriate sexual contact” with a drunk woman he picked up during a police call.
Despite the results of Tuesday’s election, state law allows Barnett to complete Theriot’s term until it ends June 30, 2017.
State statute and the state constitution dictate that in municipalities governed by the Lawrason Act, as Sorrento is, town councils cannot decrease an elected official’s compensation during his or her term, John Gallagher, Louisiana Municipal Association attorney, said in an interview earlier Thursday with The Advocate.
“You can’t deny paying her because she is an elected official,” Anny told council members.
Anny’s motion died when council members Wanda Bourgeois, Donald Schexnayder or Patti Poche declined to offer a second.
Whether Barnett will resign her position as police chief now that voters abolished the Police Department is still unknown.
“I have not yet made that decision,” Barnett said Thursday, explaining it could take a week, a month or even a year for her to decide.
Poche asked what Barnett was doing as police chief if she has no police force to direct, and Barnett said she has stayed busy entering data into the office computer, cleaning out Theriot’s office and even doing town planning and zoning work.
Poche noted that Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley has previously said he would not enter into a long-term contract with the town to provide police protection if there is another law enforcement officer present.
But Mayor Mike Lambert said sheriff’s deputies will continue to patrol 24/7.
Whether she will ever get paid for her work as police chief is uncertain, however.
“She’s going to have to go to court to force us to pay her,” Lambert said.
Barnett declined comment after the meeting, then disappeared into her office at Town Hall.
Advocate staff writer David J. Mitchell contributed to this report.