Personnel Committee recommends adjustment to Parish Presidents’ salary

Personnel Chairman Benny Johnson

On Wednesday, a few hours after Ascension’s current parish president exited one courtroom a free man, the Council’s Personnel Committee took up the issue of the position’s salary beginning in 2020.  Chairman Benny Johnson presented a proposed ordinance linking the president’s salary to that of other offices elected parish-wide, including 23rd Judicial District Court judges and the District Attorney who preside over a three-parish area including Assumption and St. James.  The final motion to forward an ordinance to the full council was to establish the presidents’ salary at “one dollar more than the highest paid” parish-wide elective office among the Sheriff, Assessor, and Clerk of Court.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to establish the parish presidents’ salary consistent with other parish officials having similar duties and responsibilities,” Personnel Chairman Benny Johnson explained, citing increased job duties in support of the ordinance. “We are trying to do something that would take some of the politics out of it.”

The salaries of those other parish-wide elected officials are set by the state legislature.

According to Johnson the current presidents’ salary “is not commensurate with other parish officials…and has not kept pace with the cost of living.”  And it lags behind the salaries paid by neighboring parish presidents who oversee much smaller budgets than those approved by Ascension’s Parish Council every year.

Ascension Budget

Iberville Parish pays its president $157,747.20 with a $41 million budget and population of 32,505.

Tangipahoa Parish president makes $134,365 with a $45 million budget and population of 127,000.

Livingston Parish president’s salary is $142,126 overseeing a $41.6 million budget with a population of 131,942.

Lafourche Parish president earns $140,000 with a $71.7 million budget and population of 97,141.

Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, enacted 25 years ago, establishes a minimum salary for the presidency; $55,000.  Currently, President Kenny Matassa enjoys a $148,000 salary which “was done in a piecemeal fashion” and relies on three autonomous governmental bodies for one-third of the total.  Taking effect on January 1, 2004 a different council set the official salary is $100,000 by ordinance.

According to Councilman Oliver Joseph annual contracts are executed by East Ascension Drainage, West Ascension Drainage, and Ascension Consolidated Utilities District #1 to offset the difference.

In 2010 voters rejected the idea along with two dozen more amendments to the Home Rule Charter.  Recently, a Charter Revision Committee recommended an amendment similar to what Johnson proposed on Wednesday, but that fell by the wayside along with numerous other proposals in favor of eliminating the parish presidency altogether.  The committee, by a 6-4 vote on May 30, recommended a Council-Manager form of government to the Council which would have to enact an ordinance calling for such an election.

If the proposed ordinance is enacted it would take effect in 2020, assuming there is still a parish presidency with an occupant to receive the salary.

Councilwoman Teri Casso, whose motion to eliminate the District Attorney and five District Court judges from the equation, offered another stipulation that “the parish president cannot be paid from any other function of government.”  Did that need to be in the ordinance being proposed or a separate ordinance?

The Home Rule Charter (at Section 3-06: Prohibitions) already reads:

“The president shall be a full-time official and shall hold no other…compensated appointive parish government office or employment during the term of office for which elected…”