Peralta facing possible contempt of court charge _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta leaves the parish jail after posting bond in April.

The St. Bernard Parish Council is slated to vote Tuesday on imposing a six-month freeze on new hires and salary raises for current employees — moves that would limit the authority of the parish’s embattled first-term president, David Peralta, who faces mounting criminal charges.

Both ordinances were introduced earlier this month after a lengthy closed-door session near the end of the council’s Oct. 7 meeting.

One would put in place a moratorium on salary increases for current parish employees and compel Peralta to produce a record of salary increases implemented over the past six months. The Parish Council would then vote on whether to approve or rescind the already-issued raises.

The other ordinance would halt new hires for six months without a vote of the council.

Council Chairman Guy McInnis said the ordinances would give the council a better handle on the budget going forward. “We just want to get a hold on the raises that are happening during the year,” he said.

In recent months, McInnis said, a disagreement has arisen over whether the council is required to approve a raise if it is given within a department’s existing budget. He declined to say whether any allegations of impropriety have been raised, instead saying that “this just a budget thing.”

“Our point is anytime you give a raise to someone, whether it affects that current year’s budget or not going forward, it affects our budget for years to come,” he said.

In a letter sent after the meeting at which the ordinances were introduced, Peralta told McInnis that he did not agree with the two proposals but that he would “immediately follow the request even though the items have not been officially passed.”

“I am doing this in the spirit of cooperation and for the effective operation of government,” Peralta said in a letter dated Oct. 9. “We need no more distractions than we are currently facing.”

Councilman Richard Lewis said Monday the ordinances were aimed at stabilizing the parish’s payroll until the council adopts a 2015 budget and also at providing a six-month buffer to potentially allow for resolution of Peralta’s ongoing legal issues.

“We’re hoping that President Peralta’s personal issues are resolved within the six months, and then we can go back to operating the parish as usual,” Lewis said.

Peralta was indicted last month by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on a charge of stalking his ex-wife — the second time he has faced criminal charges this year. He surrendered to authorities two days later and was released on a $35,000 bond.

The felony stalking charge followed a sexual battery charge against Peralta that was handed up by a St. Bernard grand jury in April. In that case, he is accused of battery on Sharon Schaefer, his then-wife, last fall in the couple’s Meraux home. Peralta has said he engaged in “rough sex” with his wife on that occasion at her request, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Both cases are being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Since the Parish Council is ultimately in charge of St. Bernard’s budget, Peralta said Monday that he didn’t take issue with the proposed ordinances and didn’t consider them to be aimed at lessening his authority.

“The council really has that authority already, because they control the budget, which is good,” he said. “That’s the check-and-balance of government, which I like. We administer the programs. Once the budget is established by the council, then it’s up to me to administer.”

Peralta acknowledged that some could see the proposed changes as “the council’s trying to take more and more power and authority,” but he said he doesn’t see them as aimed at him personally. He said he doesn’t “see it as that big of an issue, and I’m not going to make an issue out of something that I don’t think is an issue.”

Gearing up for the upcoming budget season, Lewis said he will propose a 3 percent cut in expenditures “in order to try to have good housekeeping.”

Peralta last month proposed a 2015 operating and capital budget that includes $132.6 million in revenues and about $130 million in spending.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.