Says City Council’s wording created ‘ambiguity’ of intent
Mayor did not violate Home Rule Charter or state law
MANDEVILLE — Mayor Clay Madden did not violate the Home Rule Charter when he gave his executive secretary Trilby Lenfant a $10,000 raise earlier this year, according to an opinion by the State Attorney General’s office.
At the August 12th City Council meeting, it was revealed that Madden had awarded his executive assistant Lenfant the raise, which brought Lenfant to almost $82,000 a year. District II Councilman Skelly Kreller offered a resolution to seek an opinion on the legality of the raise from the AG’s office. The resolution was adopted 4-1, with only District 1 Councilwoman Rebecca Bush voting against.
In the opinion obtained today but dated October 14th, the AG said in a three-plus-page document that the City Council’s wording in its September 2020 budget ordinance created an “ambiguity” with two of its exhibits, or attachments.
Exhibit B, the “Job Class Detail,” contained a list of specific salaries for various employees. Exhibit D on the other hand, “Next Year/Current Year Budget Analysis,” has a line item for $1,318,049 in “Salaries.”
Exhibit B appears to be a detail record for the Exhibit D salaries line item. The 2021 budget ordinance reads, “There shall be no transfer of funds in an amount of $10,000 or more made between line items as shown on Exhibit D, the budget analyses of this budget. No transfers may be made that would increase a line item appropriation by $10,000 or more than the amount originally appropriated.”
The $10,000 raise for Lenfant came from money within the salaries line item in Exhibit D, but by including Exhibit B with a salary breakdown, the AG says the council made it unclear which exhibit — B or D — it intended to be the actual “appropriation.”
“The answer to which exhibit, ‘B’ or ‘D’ is considered the appropriation is ultimately a question as to what the Council believed it was doing when it adopted the budget ordinance,” the opinion read in part.
The AG said they could not answer that question based on the wording of the ordinance. The AG also seemed to advise the City Council to do a better job of wording its budget ordinances moving forward.
“Whether the Council meant to ‘appropriate’ each line item in Exhibit ‘B’ for each job classification or whether it meant to ‘appropriate’ one lump sum for salaries in Exhibit ‘D’ (subject to the transfer between line items of up to $10,000), is a question that the Council should consider when adopting its fiscal year 2022 budget ordinance,” the opinion continued.
The AG concluded, “In light of the ambiguity, it is the opinion of this office that the Council should clarify the actual appropriation of funds and the specific budgetary authority of the Mayor in future budgets.”