Jefferson Parish’s inspector general will be allowed to sit in on executive sessions of the Parish Council when invited by the council, according to an agreement reached between the council and the parish’s Ethics and Compliance Commission.
Councilman Ben Zahn on Wednesday withdrew a measure he proposed recently that called for a change in state law to address what he saw as a discrepancy between the investigative powers of the Inspector General’s Office and the Louisiana code of evidence.
Zahn and a few other council members were worried that the way the office was set up could violate attorney-client privilege rules.
While pulling back his proposal, Zahn said he and council members Paul Johnston and Mark Spears met with officials from the Ethics and Compliance Commission to iron out the new agreement, though it involves only executive sessions and doesn’t deal with Inspector General David McClintock’s access to parish government emails and other documents, which has been a point of contention in the past.
Carroll Suggs, the commission’s chairwoman, read a statement saying the “commission and the inspector general concur that the Jefferson Parish Council will invite the inspector general to participate in an executive session when there are issues of fraud, waste, abuse, illegal acts or procurement.”
“This has been a great working relationship,” Zahn said. “We’ve come to a resolution I believe is healthy for everyone. I don’t think anybody gets hurt this way … and the parish is out of any kind of liability issue by including a third party (in discussions) with outside counsel.”
The council also went into executive session Wednesday to discuss the ongoing lease negotiations with suitors for the parish’s two hospitals.
Councilman Elton Lagasse said after the meeting that he is confident an agreement for LCMC Health to take over operation of West Jefferson Medical Center will be completed by early next year.
“From what they told us, they’re meeting, they’re progressing,” he said. “They’re not at a dead stop, and they’re not at something that can’t be resolved. We’re hoping to be done sometime this spring.”
HCA, which dropped out of the running to operate East Jefferson General Hospital in February, said earlier this week that it has resumed discussions with that hospital, though it described those talks as “preliminary.”
Lagasse said he’s not aware of anything on that front, other than hearing news reports that a line of communication is open.
The East Bank hospital was set back further than its sister facility when its two top suitors, HCA and Ochsner, walked away from negotiations.
The Parish Council on Wednesday also approved the parish’s $580 million operating and capital budget for 2015 without discussion.
The budget, which was presented to the council last month, includes 5 percent merit pay raises for employees. The money for the raises, estimated at $5 million, will come from expected higher tax revenue.
The budget sets aside about $63 million for infrastructure improvements, including $11.5 million for streets, $25 million for drainage, $6.5 million for sewers, $10 million for water projects and $1 million for costs associated with the closure of the parish landfill.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.