Pledging a new era of cooperation and transparency, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and Coroner Charles Preston signed an agreement Tuesday that is intended to end more than a year of legal wrangling over who should have the final say over the Coroner’s Office’s finances.
Under the terms of the agreement, Preston will have to present his budget to the parish’s Finance Department for approval by Sept. 1 of each year. After the Finance Department approves it, the budget will be presented to the Parish Council for final approval.
The agreement also requires the coroner to submit quarterly reports on his expenditures and revenues as well as the numbers of investigations, autopsies, depositions, mental health evaluations and other services performed by the office.
The parish will be required to make quarterly transfers to the Coroner’s Office to fund its activities. The parish has the right to review and approve all of the office’s contracts, but Brister said it will not do that.
During a signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, Preston and Brister praised each other for working to come to the agreement, saying it would increase the office’s transparency and help the two entities work together under the requirements of Act 181, which was passed last year and gave the parish broad oversight over Coroner’s Office finances.
Former Coroner Peter Galvan challenged Act 181’s constitutionality in court before he was indicted, convicted and imprisoned. The agreement signed Tuesday effectively ends that challenge. A motion to dismiss the suit will be filed this week, Brister spokesman Ronnie Simpson said.
Preston admitted that he thought Galvan’s challenge had some legal merit, but he said the agreement was a way to avoid spending “millions” in legal fees in a fight that might prove fruitless.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.