St. Charles Herald-Guide

Pay raises sought for parish president, council

By Kyle Barnett - June 13, 2014

St. Charles Parish Councilman Paul Hogan is setting out to change the parish’s Home Rule Charter to allow for pay raises for both the parish president and Parish Council members. Hogan said that raising the council members’ pay would draw more candidates for the position, while increasing the parish president’s salary would make it more inline with surrounding areas.

At $99,365.50, current St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre makes less than St. Charles Parish Clerk of Court Lance Marino, whose recent legislatively-granted raise will put his salary at $105,000. St. Pierre also makes much less than St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, whose salary is $143,398 though her parish has around 7,000 fewer residents. When compared to St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel, the pay disparity is even more pronounced.

Roussel makes more than $150,000 while his parish has only 22,000 residents.

Hogan’s change would allow for an increase in the parish president’s salary to $125,000, which is based off of an average of what other parishwide elected leaders make. For example, St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne makes $143,398, while others, such as Marino, make around $100,000.

If passed, the raise would take effect in 2016, after the next parish election.

The salaries for public officials such as judges, clerks of court and assessors are set by the state legislature. Hogan’s change to the charter would mean that when officials in those offices receive raises from the state, the St. Charles Parish president would receive a similar raise.

“As they get increases, the parish president gets an increase. That way we would never have to adjust the salary, it would occur automatically,” Hogan said.  “You make it where you get a reasonable salary and more qualified candidates will enter the race (for parish president).”

St. Pierre, who is term-limited, would not benefit from such a raise. However, if the parish charter were changed to allow him to seek a third term, St. Pierre said he would consider running again only if he knew he “had a shot to complete the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.”

In addition to the amendment raising the parish president’s salary, Hogan has introduced an amendment that would increase the salaries of council members from $10,545 to $15,000. The council’s two at-large members, who are paid $14,055, would see a salary adjustment to $18,500.

Hogan, who has been on the Parish Council since 2007, will be term-limited in the next election and would not benefit from any raise. Although he said he was never on the Parish Council for the money, he believes the 15 hours a week he spends working as a councilman should come at a higher pay rate.

“I just know the time and effort I put into this and the money I get out of it,” Hogan said.

Hogan said he thinks the current wage for Parish Council members turns away those who might otherwise function well as elected leaders.  

“I’ve had people tell me in the past, ‘I am not wasting my time, I am not going to subject myself to that for nothing,’” he said.

Another amendment  proposed by Hogan would allow the Parish Council to make changes to the budget after it has passed, something only the parish president is now allowed to do.

In his time on the Parish Council, Hogan said he has never seen an instance where a budget has needed to be amended after it has been passed, but he could foresee emergencies in the future in which such a change would need to be made.  “There should be some provision that if a project is desperately needed and the parish president doesn’t want to make it happen, then the council should be able to amend the budget to make it happen. It would have to be something unanimous to amend the budget,” he said. “The budget is not something you want to amend lightly.”

In an email to Hogan, Buddy Boe, St. Charles Parish’s chief administrative officer, said the current budgeting process should not be changed.

“We believe the current budget process, with additional inclusion of the council earlier in the process, has served and will serve the public well. Therefore, the administration will again attend the committee meeting to express our reasons for opposing this amendment,” he wrote.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, several council members also expressed opposition to Hogan’s budget amendment, making it unlikely to pass a council vote.

Hogan’s final proposed amendment to the charter would disallow interim council members from running for the seat they are temporarily holding.

Hogan said this would have prevented a situation that occurred when Council Chairwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier was appointed to the District 7 seat and then ran unopposed for the seat in a special election.

“She was appointed and she got the seat because nobody else went and ran for the position. The question we need to ask is did nobody run because she was already in the seat and had all the name recognition and free publicity? It is hard to beat an incumbent, which she practically was,” he said.

Hogan said such limitations are already in place in other parishes.

“There are several parishes that already have that provision in place so it is not anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “It is to make a level playing field for all candidates seeking the position, not to give an unfair advantage.”

Any changes to the parish charter will first have to clear the Parish Council before being placed on a ballot for voter approval.

Hogan plans on bringing the ordinance to a vote in the July 7 Parish Council meeting. If it passes at that point the measure will be voted on by St. Charles Parish residents in the Nov. 4 general election.  

The July 7 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the St. Charles Parish Council chambers on the second floor of the courthouse.

Pay raises sought  for parish president, council