St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta on Friday made good on his promise to veto a measure passed by the Parish Council this week that would have imposed a six-month freeze on salary raises for parish employees, thereby limiting the authority of the embattled first-term parish leader.
Early indications were that the veto might stand.
In a two-page letter outlining why he issued the veto, Peralta cited concerns that the ordinance violates state law and the parish’s charter. He said an opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office backs his position.
The disagreement hinges on whether the council can prevent a raise if it is given within a department’s existing budget.
“The issue before us is whether the council has the authority to directly administer and manage administration’s employees? I answer that question in the negative,” Peralta wrote.
He said state law gives him the authority to spend money authorized by the budget. “If there are funds available in a budget, the chief executive may administer those funds as he sees fit,” he wrote. State law “gives the executive the right to reallocate funds within the budget.”
The Parish Council approved the ordinance Tuesday. It put in place a freeze on salary increases for current parish employees and directed Peralta to produce a record of salary increases implemented over the past six months.
The council also approved a separate ordinance to halt new hires for six months without a vote of the council. Peralta did not challenge that measure.
Both ordinances passed 4-1, with two members absent. Councilman Nathan Gorbaty cast the lone vote against the ordinances, with Ray Lauga and Manuel “Monty” Montelongo absent.
Council Chairman Guy McInnis said the ordinances would give the council a better handle on the parish’s finances as it gears up for the upcoming budget review season. He also noted that the raises approved during the past year would add up to about $400,000 in additional spending in 2015, which could cause the parish problems.
Peralta’s decision to veto one of the ordinances appeared to represent a 180-degree shift from a letter he sent to McInnis earlier this month promising to carry out the ordinances “in the spirit of cooperation and for the effective operation of government.”
The Parish Council can override a veto with a vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the full council, or five votes. But after reading Peralta’s letter, McInnis said Friday that he “would agree actually with his point on being able to move money within a department,” even though he said he still believes the ordinance is needed.
He said other factors are in play when deciding on a potential raise, such as ensuring that the money will be available in future budgets.
McInnis said he likely wouldn’t try to override the veto, though he added that there are “other reasons why we need a moratorium” on raises.
Councilman Richard Lewis described the veto as frustrating and said he didn’t think it was in the parish’s best interests.
“The damage is already done. It’s just a matter for me to try to not let this happen again next year, and maybe if I’ve got to put more budget constraints, we’ll put more budget constraints,” he said. “The amount of money that was given out in raises, I’m sure that some of them were warranted, but you know, I know a lot of the money wasn’t warranted.”
Peralta, who has said he plans to run for re-election next year despite his ongoing legal issues, did not attend the council meeting. It was the second Parish Council meeting in a row that he did not attend, both coming after he was indicted last month by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on a charge of stalking his ex-wife.
That was the second time he has faced criminal charges this year. A St. Bernard grand jury handed up a sexual battery charge against him in April in connection with an incident last October in which he is accused of sexual battery on Sharon Schaefer, his then-wife. He has pleaded not guilty to the battery charge.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.