Mandeville Mayor Sues City Council…

BY SARA PAGONES | STAFF WRITER JUL 23, 2019 – 3:59 PM
Judicial panel sides with Donald Villere in ethics case
Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere speaks at a political forum in 2016. (archives)

Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere and the City Council have been on opposing sides of many issues in recent years, but in their latest clash — on how much the city will pay future mayors — they’ll be opponents in a courtroom.

Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere vetoes council vote to reduce next mayor’s salary
Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere vetoes council vote to reduce next mayor’s salary
Villere filed a suit in 22nd Judicial District Court last week over the City Council’s adoption of an ordinance that would reduce the salary of Mandeville’s next mayor from $114,475 to $94,500, a move that Villere says the council lacks the authority to make.

His suit asks a judge to declare the ordinance a violation of the city’s home rule charter and to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions to block it. The suit names all five council members in their personal and official capacities as defendants.

The salary reduction won’t affect Villere. He’s term-limited and can’t seek re-election. The new pay scale would go into effect July 1, 2020, when his successor takes office.

The mayor argued against the cut when the council unanimously adopted it in April, saying that the charter allows the City Council to increase the mayor’s salary but not to decrease it.

Mandeville Council overrides Villere’s veto of pay cut for next mayor
He vetoed the measure the following month, but the City Council voted 4-1 to override it. Councilman John Keller cast the lone vote against the override.

“As mayor, I have a responsibility to uphold the laws,” Villere said Tuesday. “The only way I can uphold the law is to take them to court. I tried to give them the opportunity to do the right thing, and they chose not to do it.”

Council members Lauré Sica and Mike Pulaski, who authored the pay reduction ordinance, said they think that the council does have the authority to decrease the mayor’s salary, although not during a mayor’s term of office.

Pulaski said the council will take the initial steps at its meeting Thursday to put a charter amendment before voters that would clearly grant the council such authority and “clear up what may be some ambiguity.”

He thinks that the council can meet the deadline to get the measure on the Nov. 16 ballot. If it can’t, the measure might not be able to go to the voters until March, which might present a problem since the election for the next mayor will be in April.

But Pulaski is also hopeful that a judge will agree with the council’s interpretation.

“It is unbelievable that we can be sued for following the city charter, as well as the past practice of the city,” Sica said.

She argued that the charter actually sets a $25,000 salary for the mayor and says that the council can increase that amount, which it has done frequently. But the mayor’s salary was reduced when Villere first took office in 2010.

“We can set the salary of the mayor, and that’s what we did,” Sica said.

Villere said the 2010 reduction was due to the resignation of Mayor Eddie Price. Price had been set to get a raise, but when he left office in disgrace, the interim mayor and Villere didn’t get that increase.

Sica said the Mandeville mayor’s compensation is out of line with other nearby cities. When benefits are factored in, she said, Mandeville’s mayor makes more than $196,000. “He has repeatedly asked for a raise, which the council has denied,” she said.

Villere said that no city funds will be used in his litigation. He hired a private lawyer to file the suit, and since the city is not named as a defendant, he said he does not think that the city attorney will defend the council members.

But Pulaski questioned whether the council members are the appropriate parties to sue. “No good deed goes unpunished in Mandeville,” he said. “Here I am a defendant in a lawsuit that I shouldn’t be included in.”

Keller was especially puzzled to be included. Between the April meeting when the council adopted the salary reduction and the May meeting when he voted to uphold the mayor’s veto, Keller said he became convinced that the council does not have the power under the charter to reduce the mayor’s salary.

Villere said that Keller’s inclusion in the suit was an oversight.

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