Madisonville bakery Pelloat Stefferud.jpg

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ANTHONY "CHOPPER" LEONE—From left are Madisonville Mayor Jean Pelloat, Capt. David R. Stefferud, Sandra Scalise Juneau, Michelle Vanderbrook and bakery owner Christine Schmidt.

CHOPPER LEONE

When Jean Pelloat was campaigning last year to become Madisonville's first new mayor in 40 years, he told voters he would soon be retiring from Kemper Insurance Co. and planned to devote himself full time to what had always been a part-time position.

Now, just weeks after his first anniversary as mayor, the Madisonville Town Council has decided Pelloat should have a full-time salary, too. It voted last week to almost double the mayor's pay, from $24,000 a year to $45,000.

The idea for the pay hike came from the council and not from the mayor, members stressed. Pelloat said he left the room when the topic came up and didn't participate in the council's discussion or in coming up with the new figure.

Councilman Brad Haddox said Friday that the raise was his idea.

"I live two blocks from City Hall, and I can see what he does," Haddox said, praising the time that Pelloat is putting in on the job.

Haddox said that he and others on the council agreed that Madisonville, which has just over 800 residents, needs a full-time mayor, something it's never had before.

Peter Gitz, who chose not to run for an 11th term last year, said he always viewed the job as a part-time position. "I always had two or three other jobs. That's how I looked at it," he said.

Now retired, Gitz said he is keeping out of politics. Pelloat is doing a good job, he said, adding that people have "different ideas" about how Madisonville's government should work.

Pelloat, who served on the Town Council for 28 years, said that being mayor was something he long had in mind because he wanted to "give back to the community where I was born and lived and raised my family."

Retiring from Kemper Insurance after 43 years meant he could devote more than part-time hours. But one year into his first term, Pelloat said he is convinced that the job should be a full-time position.

Besides having more than 30 employees, the town also has a natural gas business that serves 4,500 customers, the vast majority of them outside the town limits. The town also has its own police department, which is unusual for such a small jurisdiction.

While Madisonville itself is small — Gitz said the population has been between 700 and 800 for many decades — St. Tammany Parish is seeing growth in the area near Madisonville, and that is affecting the town, Pelloat said.

Haddox said Gitz "took very good care of this community" on a part-time basis. But the councilman, who is in his first term of office, said the town's $4 million annual budget, the natural gas business and day-to-day demands of government justify a full-time mayor.

He cited pension costs, insurance and infrastructure needs as among the "many things" that require a mayor's attention, as well as interacting with state and parish officials.

"The demands, liabilities and needs are greater than ever, and with all the challenges going on day to day, it takes more time and attention than we ever imagined," Haddox said.

Pelloat said that despite the raise, he will still be making less than the mayors of St. Tammany's other municipalities: Abita Springs, Pearl River, Covington, Mandeville and Slidell. All of those mayors are full-time.

Covington, Mandeville and Slidell are cities with much larger populations and budgets. Slidell, the largest municipality, has a population of 28,013 and an annual budget of $54.8 million. Its mayor, Freddy Drennan, is paid $119,506 annually for a job that is required by the city's Home Rule Charter to be full-time.

Mandeville's mayor, Donald Villere, receives $114,475 a year, and Covington Mayor Mike Cooper is paid $87,147. Mandeville's population is 12,424 while Covington's is 10,310.

Even the towns of Abita Springs and Pearl River are much larger than Madisonville, with populations of 2,900 and 2,552, respectively. Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons is paid $50,000; Pearl River Mayor David McQueen makes $52,000.

While Madisonville's council members are in agreement about the need for full-time mayoral leadership, not everyone else agrees. Melvin Lamp, a retired architect who ran against Gitz for mayor in 2012, scoffed at the idea.

Pelloat ran for the job knowing it was a part-time position, Lamp said, and he accepted that status and salary. "His thing is that the council brought it up," Lamp said. "But he's not refusing it."

Lamp was one of two people who spoke against the raise last month when the item first appeared on the Town Council's agenda. While the council voted to adopt the measure at that meeting, it had not been properly advertised in the town's legal journal, so it had to be voted on again this month.

Lamp, a frequent critic of town government, said town officials are spending too freely, citing a $160,000 parking lot for ball fields that Madisonville is helping to pay for. He questioned whether the town will have enough funds on hand should another flood occur.

Lamp also said the town can't afford the mayor's raise because, according to his analysis, revenues have decreased and expenses increased since Pelloat took office.

But Councilman Chris Hitzman questioned Lamp’s figures, saying, "You have a tendency to throw out what you consider facts, which are not always quite factual."

Another resident, Gordon Mellencamp, praised the council's action, calling Pelloat's new salary "a bargain."

Haddox said he does not see any widespread discontent with the move. "There are are always a few individuals who grumble," he said.

Bill McHugh contributed to this report.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.