The administrator of a troubled St. Tammany Parish fire protection district resigned Tuesday, the same day that the board governing the district scrapped an ambulance service that had proved to be a financial drain.
Ray Newton’s resignation followed calls by the Parish Council last week for an investigation into possible malfeasance at Fire Protection District 12.
In a letter to the board, Newton said he tried to get a handle on the district’s budget shortfall and the new ambulance service but was thwarted in those efforts by members of the fire department staff.
He said that when he went around staff members to discuss revenue projections directly with the billing company for the ambulance service, he learned that the staff had inflated the projections by 200 percent and that spending cuts would be needed.
Newton complained in the letter that he was subjected to harassment, ostracism and intimidation and turned into a scapegoat for the district’s financial woes.
Joe Mitternight, chairman of the fire district’s board, instructed Fire Chief Darrell Guilott in a letter dated Wednesday to develop a plan for handling Newton’s duties.
He said he also is launching an investigation into comments made by Newton and Robert Barnett, the district’s attorney, that they had felt threatened.
“We have known for some time that there were ill feelings between the fire department staff and the administrative staff, and I have on several occasions told all parties to remain professional and not let personal feelings affect the department,’’ Mitternight wrote.
But he said Newton’s resignation letter was the first time he became aware that anyone feared physical harm.
Mitternight took issue with Newton’s account of a conversation they had about possible disciplinary action stemming from what he described as a clandestine operation by Newton to gather files from the district that also involved Barnett.
Mitternight said he had assured Newton that he would have an opportunity to explain his actions and that Mitternight would speak in favor of allowing Newton to resign if termination was recommended.
The resignation is the culmination of a bumpy series of events for the district, which serves unincorporated areas near Covington, Abita Springs and Folsom.
The Parish Council spent nearly two hours last week chiding Mitternight and other fire district officials for a looming budget shortfall and a decision to launch an ambulance service a little over a year ago.
The council reluctantly agreed to allow the district to seek an $800,000 line of credit and restructure some existing debt, but it said someone needed to be held accountable. The council voted to ask 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery and the state Legislative Auditor’s Office to investigate the district for possible malfeasance.
Newton was paid an annual salary of $122,647 and also received a $2,160 cellphone allowance, a $600 Internet allowance and a $6,000 car allowance.
Ashley Rodrigue, of WWL-TV, contributed to this story. Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.