Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears said he finds it “shameful” that his plan for raising the wages of some parish workers looks dead in the water.
Citing a formula developed by MIT that defines a “living wage” for any given area, Spears has been pushing for Jefferson officials to set the minimum pay for parish government workers at $10.51 an hour, up from $8.79 at present.
But the parish Personnel Department said the idea isn’t feasible because, among other things, it would cost $442,000 a year.
At a Parish Council meeting Wednesday, Spears pleaded for support for his proposal and criticized Parish President John Young’s administration for endorsing the Personnel Department’s view — a point on which there was some confusion.
Spears said paying a living wage should be a top priority if officials are interested in “attracting young people and keeping young people here in the parish.”
Andrew Maestri, one of Young’s chief assistants, responded that Young does not necessarily agree with the Personnel Department’s assessment. Young’s office does not oversee the Personnel Department.
But, Maestri added, “The Personnel Department conducted the feasibility study, and we concur with what the feasibility study conveyed to you.”
An exasperated Spears shot back, “That’s what I just said.”
Jeff candidate ready to kick off campaign
For 10 months after announcing himself as the first candidate in the running for the Jefferson Parish Council this October, West Bank businessman Michael O’Brien kept a relatively low profile.
That’s about to change, as he formally kicks off his campaign to challenge incumbent District 2 Councilman Paul Johnston with an event on Tuesday.
O’Brien, a River Ridge resident and father of two, first announced in July that he’d run for the seat Johnston has held since 2012 by putting up a billboard in Elmwood on Jefferson Highway. But it wasn’t until Friday that O’Brien sent out a news release to the media with details of his campaign launch event, which will be Tuesday morning at the Four Columns, 3711 West Bank Expressway.
O’Brien said Friday that he announced himself as a candidate unusually early — about 15 months before the Oct. 24 election — in part because he felt it would boost his name recognition.
“My initial billboard was an opportunity to get my name out there,” said O’Brien, the president of a shipping container firm in Avondale.
O’Brien ran in 2011 for the Parish Council’s 1st District seat, whose boundaries are entirely on the West Bank. He lost to incumbent Ricky Templet, getting 39 percent of the vote.
He has since moved into District 2, which includes communities on both sides of the Mississippi River such as Harahan, River Ridge, Avondale and Marrero.
In Friday’s news release, he said that if elected to the council, he would offer a business acumen that would help the parish avoid running over-budget on projects such as the Performing Arts Center that is about to open in Metairie at a price tag twice what was originally projected.
He also vowed to provide a regular audience to his constituents in the form of monthly town hall meetings he’d bill as “Late Nights With Michael O’Brien.”
The last campaign finance report O’Brien filed, on Dec. 31, said he had almost $45,700 on hand. However, on Friday, he said he had loaned about $60,000 to his campaign, approximately half of which is left after spending money on media materials supporting his candidacy.
The last report available for Johnston, 66, a Republican, said he had almost $189,100 in his campaign finance account.
O’Brien, also a Republican, is the son of Michael D. O’Brien, who once managed campaigns for the late Harry Lee, the longtime Jefferson Parish sheriff. The younger O’Brien, 38, said he doesn’t mention that fact when campaigning because he wants to win support on his own merits.
“I’m not ashamed of it,” O’Brien said of his father’s former job. “But I am my own man.”
Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas