The Gretna City Council went into executive session Wednesday night to discuss a report that Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana has been doing private security work while on the clock for the city.
After the closed-door session ended, however, City Attorney Mark Morgan told members of the council and administration not to discuss the matter with reporters because it could hamper the city’s investigation, and Police Chief Arthur Lawson said he couldn’t discuss the issue.
The council also unanimously passed a $35.2 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1.
WVUE-TV reported last week that Christiana, who has accumulated 201 unused vacation days, has in recent years taken multiple trips without taking days off.
The station reported that Christiana traveled on 26 work days in 2013, including one trip to provide personal security for Paul McCartney while the former Beatle was on tour in Brazil but reported using only 6.75 vacation days.
The station reported that in 2013, taxpayers paid $6,694.38 in salary to Christiana while he was traveling.
The following year, Christiana, who owns a security company called Christiana & Associates, went to Brazil twice to provide security for McCartney and didn’t take any days off despite missing about a week of work each time, the station said.
Gretna Police Department payroll records, which were provided to WVUE by an anonymous source, showed Christiana didn’t take any vacation or sick days off in 2015.
The station reported that the 201 unused vacation days Christiana has accrued are worth $34,766 if he cashes them in before retirement. He also can use them before he retires, allowing him to get paid his full salary without working during his final months with the department.
On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Crime Commission called for an independent investigation of the issue.
Lawson issued a statement saying he is appointing an “independent investigative team” to collect information and turn it over to the city, though he did not provide any additional details.
Lawson, who accompanied Christiana on some of the trips, said he had assumed Christiana had properly accounted for his vacation and that it’s possible he took time off in a later pay period.
In other business Wednesday, the City Council approved total spending of $35.2 million for the upcoming fiscal year on revenue of $35.8 million.
In the general fund, the city will spend $18 million on $16.8 million in revenue. After $1.5 million in transfers, much of it from the riverboat casino fund, the general fund is projected to be $302,190 in the black for the next fiscal year, bringing the city’s accumulated surplus to $12.6 million, $4.8 million of which is undedicated — a so-called rainy-day fund.
The projected $16.8 million in revenue is 21 percent less than the $21.2 million expected in the current fiscal year, though that discrepancy is due mainly to cash Gretna received in 2015 from the BP oil spill settlement.
Property tax revenue is projected to be flat, pending a reassessment by the parish later this year. Sales tax revenue is projected to be up 3 percent.
Mayor Belinda Constant said Gretna’s financial health has been improving, which she attributed to the city’s emphasis on quality of life and economic development.
She cited the city’s work with Tulane University on a master plan for downtown development as an example of the former and the opening of a new Wal-Mart grocery store and the first of three hotels being built on property annexed by the city as examples of the latter.
“With more new development in the pipeline, we are confident that the city’s budgetary conditions will continue to improve,” she said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.