St. Bernard resident calls on Peralta to resign _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta.

With Parish President David Peralta’s legal troubles mounting, the St. Bernard Parish Council is taking steps to increase its authority over parish employees and limit the administration’s ability to hire people at will.

The council approved a resolution Tuesday to create an organizational chart for parish workers that will map out job descriptions and pay scales, something the parish hasn’t had for years. Sponsored by councilman-at-large George Cavignac and unanimously approved by the council, the resolution stipulates that jobs available in parish government soon will be limited to those identified in the chart.

Though the move comes a month after a public dust-up between the council and the administration over Peralta’s authority to grant salary raises, Peralta said Wednesday that he has no beef with the council’s latest foray into oversight of parish employees. The new system, he said, is “going to make a whole lot of that a whole lot easier.”

The parish has hired the Archer Company, a South Carolina-based human resources consulting firm, to draw up the new chart, which will include job descriptions and employee evaluation forms for St. Bernard’s roughly 90 expected positions, Cavignac said.

That work is slated to take three to four months and cost the parish almost $24,000, he said.

Cavignac said the time was right to lay the groundwork for the new personnel system because he’s anticipating turnover on the council, with all seven seats up for grabs in the fall election. Revamping the process for hiring employees is among several areas that he hopes to tackle before then, he said, describing this week’s vote as “basically asking the council to set the tone for the rest of the year.”

The resolution requires that all positions in parish government be identified in the organizational chart and have money allocated for them in St. Bernard’s annual budget before they are filled. If the parish president wishes to hire an additional employee “to better serve the public interest,” a budget amendment must be approved by the council, according to the resolution.

The resolution also stipulates that salaries must comply with figures set in the organizational chart. If an adjustment is necessary, the parish president needs to make his case in a budget amendment.

Cavignac, for his part, said he is not planning to run for reelection this year, and is instead considering a run for the state House of Representatives.

Last month, St. Bernard voters rejected a full slate of property tax millages to pay for a variety of public services, leaving millions of dollars in tax revenue hanging in limbo.

Cavignac blamed the millage defeat on “a fundamental lack of trust” on the part of voters in the parish’s current direction.

“Nobody’s against libraries and the Council on Aging,” he said, listing two areas that lost out on renewals. “I think it’s incumbent that we take steps to regain the public’s confidence in the direction that St. Bernard Parish is going.”

Cavignac said he plans to address what he sees as voters’ lack of trust in other ways, including measures to ensure that contractors who are awarded work by the parish follow through on their commitments.

“All of these measures really stem from some of the language vagueness that’s been bandied around and taken advantage of by the administration, quite frankly,” he said of Tuesday’s resolution and others that he plans to offer. “My hope is that I can solidify some of that language to address problems that could occur.”

Late last year, Peralta vetoed a measure to freeze salaries that the council had approved.

Peralta and the council eventually reached a compromise, in which the two sides agreed that any raises granted by Peralta over a six-month period would need to be certified by the parish’s finance director and the council’s Executive Finance Committee before taking effect.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.