Feds spend hours at St. Bernard government complex _lowres

St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta

With little fanfare beyond a quick reading of the proposed language, the St. Bernard Parish Council on Tuesday took steps to limit the authority of Parish President David Peralta, drawing a strong rebuke from the embattled parish leader, who in a surprise threatened to veto one of the two measures.

The council, by a 4-1 vote, with two members absent, approved an ordinance putting in place a freeze on salary increases for current parish employees and directing Peralta to produce a record of salary increases implemented over the past six months, as well as an ordinance to halt new hires for six months without a vote of the council.

Councilman Nathan Gorbaty cast the lone vote against the ordinances, with members Ray Lauga and Manuel “Monty” Montelongo absent.

The ordinances were introduced earlier this month after a lengthy closed-door session near the end of the council’s Oct. 7 meeting. A public hearing on them during Tuesday’s meeting drew no remarks from the audience.

Council Chairman Guy McInnis has said the ordinances would give the council a better handle on the parish’s finances as it gears up for the upcoming budget review season.

During Tuesday’s meeting, McInnis said raises approved during the past year would add up to about $400,000 in additional spending in 2015, which could cause the parish problems.

“Nobody’s started talking about all these raises that we’ve been giving during the year,” McInnis said as the council discussed a different area of the proposed budget.

But Peralta, in an interview after the meeting, said he would almost certainly veto the ordinance that prohibits raises, saying he believes opinions from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office show that the council is “overstepping their authority.”

In order to keep skilled workers on the parish’s payroll, Peralta said, he occasionally has to loosen the purse strings because salaries for St. Bernard employees are often less than in surrounding parishes.

“The people that I have given raises to are people that I think deserve it because of specific knowledge that they have or additional workloads they’ve taken on,” he said.

McInnis, told of Peralta’s comments after the meeting, said they represented a shift from a letter the parish president sent him two weeks ago in which he promised to carry out the ordinances “in the spirit of cooperation and for the effective operation of government.”

“If he wants to just spend and give raises within the departments,” McInnis said, “I don’t think that’s right for the citizens of this parish because going forward, every time you give a raise during a year, that affects our budget for years to come.”

Peralta has 10 business days to either sign or veto the ordinances. The Parish Council can override a veto with a vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the full council, or five votes.

“This is a grandstanding effort on the part of a few of the councilmen,” said Peralta, who has said he plans to run for re-election next year despite his ongoing legal issues.

Peralta did not attend the council meeting, due to a doctor’s appointment, he said. It’s the second Parish Council meeting in a row that he did not attend, both coming after he was indicted last month by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on a charge of stalking his ex-wife.

That was the second time he has faced criminal charges this year.

A St. Bernard grand jury handed up a sexual battery charge against him in April in connection with an incident last October in which he is accused of battery on Sharon Schaefer, his then-wife. He has pleaded not guilty to the battery charge.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.