Two weeks after approving a resolution that imposed an immediate hiring freeze on parish government, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council voted Tuesday night to override Parish President Natalie Robottom’s veto of that action, putting the nine-member council in control of some future hires for the time being.
With one member absent, the council voted 8-to-0 to override Robottom’s veto, which was issued this week.
The council’s original resolution was approved during a Jan. 30 special meeting.
For weeks, Robottom and the council have sparred over the first-term president’s effort to hire two special assistants who would oversee the parish’s utilities and economic development departments.
Council members have argued that the parish’s charter gives them the authority to confirm department heads, and that appointing special assistants to oversee the departments was simply Robottom’s way of working around them.
Robottom had sought to hire Blake Fogleman as a special assistant to work in the Utilities Department, where Director Virgil Rayneri was slated to retire at the end of the month.
Robottom also wanted to hire Laverne Saulny as a special assistant assigned to the Economic Development Department. Saulny was slated to serve as acting director in the absence of Torri Buckles, who is on an extended medical leave, Robottom said in a news release last month.
But according to St. John’s charter, the Parish Council has the power to confirm the appointment of department heads, a view that St. John District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut backed in an opinion last month. Dinvaut’s opinion noted two previous opinions by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office that she said agreed with her analysis.
The Parish Council has said previously that it will consider suing Robottom if she doesn’t comply with the charter, and in fact, an item dealing with that possibility was included later on Tuesday’s agenda to be discussed in closed-door session.
It’s unclear what will happen next.
Parish Council Chairman Michael Wright said Wednesday that he was waiting for legal clarification on the fate of the two hires, and he declined to speculate on any potential litigation.
“Right now, with the current DA’s opinion that was rendered, the parish president cannot have her special assistants serving as acting directors,” Wright said. “It’s more of the intent of the job, as far as what duties are being carried out with the actual position.”
But Baileigh Rebowe, a Robottom spokeswoman, said the council’s veto would have no impact on the two hires because they were made before the freeze went into effect.
Filling the head utilities position is likely to draw close scrutiny after a dangerous amoeba was found in the parish’s water supply last year. The state Department of Health and Hospitals reported that tests of the water supply indicated that the amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, was present in the water lines that service about 12,500 residents in Garyville, Mount Airy, Reserve and a small portion of LaPlace.
In December, the state Health Department reported that testing showed water samples taken from that site were negative for the amoeba.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.