Mandeville voters will likely see a proposed amendment to the city’s home rule charter on the Nov. 16 ballot that would explicitly give the City Council the power to decrease the mayor’s pay.
The City Council voted in July to do just that, decreasing the salary from $114,475 to $94,500. But that move has been challenged by Mayor Donald Villere, initially with a veto that the council overrode and then by a lawsuit.
Villere, who is term-limited and would not be affected by the change, argues that the City Charter does not give the council the authority to decrease the mayor’s salary but only to increase it.
The City Council introduced an ordinance at its July 25 meeting to put a charter amendment on the November ballot. The charter currently says that the council “may, by ordinance, increase the salary or the mayor.” The amendment would add the words “or decrease.”
The council introduced the measure, which will be voted on Aug. 8, with little discussion, but the latest tussle between the mayor and the council was clearly on the minds of members, who had anticipated that they would be served with the mayor’s lawsuit at the meeting.
That didn’t happen. Near the end of the meeting, Councilman Mike Pulaski said that he probably shouldn’t address the issue until he’s been served.
“When we get served, I will have plenty to say about this bogus and ill-advised lawsuit,” he said.
Villere made no response.
But Pulaski and Lauré Sica, who authored the ordinance reducing the mayor’s salary, have been vocal in defending it. They both said they were surprised by the mayor’s decision to sue the five council member individually.
“It is unbelievable that we can be personally sued for doing our job as City Council, abiding by the charter and following past practice of Mandeville,” she said earlier this week.
The charter sets a $25,000 salary for the mayor, Sica said, and it says that the council can increase that amount, which it has done often. But Sica argues that when Villere first took office in 2010, the council did reduce the mayor’s salary.
Villere disagrees, however, noting that that 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.
But he also argued that minutes from the commission that drafted the charter show that there was discussion about whether the council should have the authority to change the mayor’s salary or only to increase it.
“It was clear that the intent of the Charter Commission was for the council to be given the authority to increase the mayor’s salary should it choose to do so,” Villere said when he vetoed the cut.
Council members say that Mandeville pays its mayor too much compared to other cities. When benefits are factored in, Sica said, Mandeville’s mayor makes more than $196,000. “He has repeatedly asked for a raise, which the council has denied,” she said.
Villere’s lawsuit, filed July 18 in 22nd Judicial District Court, asks a judge to declare the salary ordinance a violation of the 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.
Villere said earlier this week that he filed the suit for the same reason he vetoed the measure: he believes it violates the charter.
“As mayor I’m responsible to uphold the laws, the only way I can uphold the law it to take it to court,” he said. “I tried to give them the opportunity to do the right thing, and they chose not to.”
While the measure doesn’t affect him, Villere said that’s not the point. “There are a bunch of laws that don’t affect me personally that I have to uphold and the responsibility to enforce.”
If the mayor prevails in court, it will be up to voters to decide if his successor will make as much money, and the November ballot is the last opportunity for the question to be addressed in time to affect the next term.