Attending his first Parish Council meeting in more than a month, St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta got an earful Wednesday about his recent veto of a measure imposing a six-month salary freeze for parish employees.
Council members approved the freeze last month, saying it would give them a better handle on the parish’s finances as they review next year’s budget. The measure also directed Peralta to produce a record of salary increases implemented in the past six months.
Peralta vetoed the measure, citing concerns that it violated state law and the parish’s charter.
During Wednesday’s meeting, council members seemed generally to accept Peralta’s claim that state law gives him discretion in spending money as long as it is within the total authorized by the council through the budget. Still, they asked him to withdraw his veto anyway.
“President Peralta, I would ask tonight that you drop your veto, and we could all work together to fix this one problem,” council Chairman Guy McInnis said as the first-term parish leader looked on, his hands clasped in front of him.
But Peralta wouldn’t budge. He had “kept his word,” he said, to comply voluntarily with the council’s request for a freeze on raises, but he insisted on letting the veto stand.
After a mostly tense back-and-forth between Peralta and several council members, McInnis — instead of taking a vote to override the veto, which would have required five votes it was not clear he had — introduced a motion to request the state Attorney General’s Office or Legislative Auditor’s Office to review the parish’s financial records to see if any raises were granted in departments that didn’t immediately have the money available.
That would be a violation of the parish’s charter, McInnis said, and if it happened deliberately, he warned, Peralta could be removed from office.
“I apologize for this, but to me, as a citizen, it is an arrogance of the executive branch that has no inside feelings about doing things according to the law, no matter how minuscule that law is,” McInnis said.
That resolution passed, 6-0, with Councilman Casey Hunnicutt absent. By late Friday, requests for the desired review had not been sent to either state agency, but they are expected next week.
After the vote, Peralta conceded that raises exceeding departmental budgets may have occurred one or two times, but he said the council’s action was largely political grandstanding.
About $237,300 in raises were given to employees this year that could carry over to next year’s budget, Peralta said.
“I’m not required, every time I make an administrative decision, to run to the council,” he said. “Now the council may want you to, but it’s not realistic.”
Peralta, who has said he plans to run for re-election next year despite his ongoing legal issues, had skipped the two previous council meetings, both coming after he was indicted in September by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on a charge of stalking his ex-wife.
Earlier, a St. Bernard grand jury handed up a sexual battery charge against him in April in connection with an incident last fall in which he is accused of sexual battery on Sharon Schaefer, his then-wife. He has pleaded not guilty to the battery charge.
Burns: Montgomery is his man in DA runoff
The day after he came in last among four candidates in the race for district attorney of St. Tammany and Washington parishes, Roy Burns offered his “full and wholehearted” endorsement to Warren Montgomery on Wednesday.
Burns announced his endorsement in a brief news conference outside the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse, saying he expects Montgomery to “restore honesty and integrity to the DA’s Office.”
Burns even said he wasn’t offended by an amusing YouTube video produced by the Montgomery campaign. In the video, which took the form of an animated medieval fable, Sir Warren of Montgomery vanquished his foes, including “the burned knight.”
“I’m a Scot,” Burns said. “I thought it was humorous.”
For his part, Montgomery thanked Burns for his endorsement and said he understood how hard it can be to lose an election. Montgomery ran unsuccessfully for judge six years ago.
Montgomery’s runoff opponent, Brian Trainor, wasted no time issuing a statement on the endorsement.
“It doesn’t surprise me to see that these two criminal defense lawyers are sticking together,” Trainor said.
Trainor led the field with 38 percent of the nearly 94,000 votes cast. Montgomery garnered 25 percent, Alan Black 20 percent and Burns 16 percent. Black has not made an endorsement in the runoff.
The winner will succeed longtime DA Walter Reed, who did not seek re-election.
Compiled by Richard Thompson and Faimon A. Roberts III