City Council meets in Chamber for first time since 2020

Meetings held in Spitzfaden Center for over a year due to COVID-19 Pandemic and renovations

MANDEVILLE — The City Council met in the Council Chamber at Mandeville City Hall tonight for the first time in over a year, marking the occasion with an uneventfully short meeting.

Council Chairman and Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman has pushed for the return to the Chamber since he was installed as council chairman last July.

The old bulky courtroom-style desk has been been replaced with tables, creating more room, and the carpeting has been upgraded.

“I was disappointed when the Council meetings were relocated out of City Hall in the first place and have been pushing to move back into Council Chamber for some time. It took some doing but we got it done and I’m really glad to have the Council meetings back in an appropriate setting,” Zuckerman said.

The City Council started meeting regularly in the Paul R. Spitzfaden Community Center across the street from City Hall in March 2021, once in-person meetings were deemed safe again after a number of video-conference meetings during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to tonight, the last time the City Council met in Chamber was November 19, 2020.

Zuckerman said a new, larger and more modern Council Chamber is being designed to replace the existing one.

(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)

In other business at tonight’s meeting:

OLD BUSINESS:
  1. Adoption of Ordinance No. 22-01; AN ORDINANCE FOR THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE TO AMEND ORDINANCE NUMBER 21-20, THE OPERATING BUDGET OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE AND FOR OTHER MATTERS IN CONNECTION THEREWITH (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large) This is for additional expenses from Hurricane Ida

    Adopted, 5-0.
NEW BUSINESS
  1. Approval of the special event application for the Mande-Gras Parade Tailgate party on Friday, February 18, 2022, starting at 6:30 pm located at The Shops at 1200 West Causeway. Tailgate will feature a musical performance by Jenna Hunt, free face painting, games to play & 2 food truck vendors. (Councilman Kreller, District II)

    Approved, 5-0.


  2. Introduction of Ordinance 22-02; AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE TO AMEND THE PAY SCALE RELATIVE TO COMPENSATION PLAN OF THE MUNICIPAL POLICE CIVIL SERVICE EMPLOYEES OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE AND PROVIDING FOR OTHER MATTERS IN CONNECTION THEREWITH (Councilman Danielson, At-Large)

    Introduced for Feb. 10, 2022 meeting.


  3. Introduction of Ordinance 22-03; AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE TO AMEND THE PERSONNEL POLICIES RELATIVE TO THE PAY SCALE OF THE NON-POLICE MUNICIPAL CIVIL SERVICE EMPLOYEES OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE AND TO AMEND THE SALARY OF THE COUNCIL CLERK AND TO PROVIDE FOR OTHER RELATED MATTERS IN CONNECTION THEREWITH (Councilman Danielson, At-Large)

    See related story: City Council to consider $23K raise for council clerk

    Introduced for Feb. 10, 2022 meeting.


  4. Introduction of Ordinance 22-04; AN ORDINANCE FOR THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE TO AMEND ORDINANCE NUMBER 21-20 THE OPERATING BUDGET OF THE CITY OF MANDEVILLE AND FOR OTHER MATTERS IN CONNECTION THEREWITH (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large)

    Introduced for Feb. 10, 2022 meeting.

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City Council to consider $23K raise for council clerk

Matches pay of mayor’s executive assistant Lenfant

Would give council clerk 38% raise

Lenfant received $10K raise last year amid kerfuffle with council

Proposal to be introduced by council member who opposed Lenfant raise last year

Council meetings return to City Hall Thursday

UPDATED 1/26/2022 at 11:20AM: Corrects use of title for Trilby Lenfant to ‘executive assistant.’

MANDEVILLE — The City Council will consider an ordinance that would give Clerk of Council Kristine Scherer a $23,000 pay raise, putting her almost equal in pay to Mayor Clay Madden’s executive assistant Trilby Lenfant.

Lenfant received a controversial raise in June that was met with frustration by some on the council, so much so they requested an opinion from the State Attorney General’s office on the matter.

While the AG ultimately said the raise was legal and did not violate the city’s home rule charter, the office concluded the wording of the City Council’s 2021 budget ordinance was ambiguous and that future budgets should be better written to avoid such confusion.

Ordinance 22-03 is being introduced at the regular City Council meeting Thursday by Councilman at Large Rick Danielson who — along with District II Councilman Skelly Kreller and District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire — was critical of Lenfant’s $10,000 raise at an August meeting last year, leading to the AG opinion request offered by Kreller.

The proposed pay raise for Scherer would be debated and voted on at the February 10, 2022, City Council meeting, provided it isn’t removed or pulled from the agenda Thursday. It is only slated to be introduced at Thursday’s meeting.

Scherer’s current pay of $60,139 is just above the market maximum $59,342 revealed by SSA Consultants’ recent salary survey “An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville’s Compensation and Benefit Plan” conducted for the city in November 2021.

Lenfant’s current pay of $83,827, which includes last year’s $10,000 raise, is well below the SSA Consultants market maximum of $102,440 for that type of position.

Proposed Ordinance 22-03 uses the title “executive secretary” to refer to Lenfant’s position, but according to the City of Mandeville’s official website, her title is “Executive Assistant.”

Thursday’s council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Mandeville City Hall council chamber at 3101 E. Causeway Approach. The meetings have been held at the Paul R. Spitzfaden Community Center for over a year, first due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then because of renovations to the council chambers.

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Sign code review details revealed for vote by P&Z tonight

Approval of scope of work comes before Planning and Zoning Commission

Top-to-bottom review of Article 10 of CLURO could open door to return of ‘electronic message centers,’ critics say

MANDEVILLE — The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider a resolution defining the scope of work for a top-to-bottom review of the city’s sign code, or Article 10 of the Comprehensive Land Use Regulation Ordinance.

Mandeville’s sign code was a hot topic last year and electronic signs were killed by the council, which then later voted to authorize a review of the sign code. Tonight’s measure defines the scope of work for that review and opens the selection process for a contractor to perform the work.

The directive lays out eight areas of concern to be addressed by the would-be contractor:

  • Creating regulations that provide a means of implementing the policies & goals of the City of Mandeville Comprehensive Plan and other related long-range planning policy documents;
  • Creating regulations that address market trends, incorporate best practices and address contextual issues throughout the City;
  • Removing or amending outdated or inappropriate standards;
  • Removing redundancies and conflicts;
  • Creating clear definitions and terminology;
  • Ensuring all regulations and prohibitions are compliant with the Louisiana and United States Constitutions, including but not limited to content neutrality and other 1st Amendment considerations;
  • Providing graphics and illustrations to supplement, replace and/or clarify written regulations; and
  • Crafting regulations that provide for effective administrative enforcement;

The proposed scope of work reads in part:

“Mandeville’s focus is [to] establish clear, responsible sign regulations with appropriate design criteria that will provide opportunities for innovative and creative approaches to sign usage while maintaining its status as an economically viable and sustainable wooded coastal community that exists in harmony with its abundant environmental resources, preserves its rich cultural history and endeavors to enhance of the quality of life for future generations.”

The proposal also calls for participation from the community:

“The Sign Code review process should engage and encourage the involvement of community leaders, key stakeholders, business owners, economic development partners and interested citizens. Public engagement is expected from the consultant, though substantial base vision data already exists in the various adopted long-range plans.”

The city will accept sealed responses from consultants interested in performing the review, after which the city will make and negotiate its final selection.

Read the proposed resolution for the scope of work for the review of the sign code here.

Read the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting agenda here.

The Planning and Zoning Commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the Spitzfaden Community Center.

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Joint meeting of City Council and P&Z tonight

Event kicks off the City of Mandeville’s resiliency plan

P&Z regular meeting to follow with proposal to start review of sign code, including so-called ‘electronic message centers’

MANDEVILLE — There will be a joint meeting of the Mandeville City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission tonight at 5 p.m. to kick off the city’s “Resiliency Plan.” The regularly scheduled Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will follow at 6 p.m.

The purpose of the joint meeting is for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to make a presentation to the City Council and the public. Both meetings are open to the public.

The P&Z will consider a resolution defining the scope of work to begin an official review of the city’s sign code.

Mandeville’s sign code was a hot topic last year and electronic signs were killed by the council, which then later voted to authorize a review of the sign code. Tonight’s measure defines the scope of work for that review.

Read the special joint meeting agenda here.

Read the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting agenda here.

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UPDATE: Mandeville’s lowest paid get less than market minimums

Mandeville often exceeds market maximums in pay scales

Consultant recommends bringing ‘incumbents’ to market range

Report does not address average pay by position compared to market averages; focuses on pay ranges

City pays 9.5% employee share into retirement system while other municipalities do not

City health benefits exceed those in region

Mandeville Police entry-level pay lags well behind others

Updated November 19, 2021, at 8:25AM: Add critics’ and proponents’ positions on Mandeville’s arrangement for paying employee’s retirement system portion against the findings of the report.

MANDEVILLE — The long-awaited salary survey report, commissioned by the City of Mandeville in early 2021 was presented to the City Council tonight (November 18th) by representatives from SSA Consultants of Baton Rouge, the firm that conducted the survey.

One of the main takeaways from the report is that by position, Mandeville’s entry-level pay — especially for police — is consistently below that of other municipalities and entities in the market region, including Covington, Slidell, Hammond, Tangipahoa Parish and the Louisiana State Police, according to SSA Consultants representative Cody Saucier, who made the presentation to the council tonight.

However, the report also reveals that Mandeville has higher maximums in most of those same positions than the market maximums. The report does not compare average or current salaries by position in Mandeville to equivalent market averages by position.

Fifty-five of the 66 positions analyzed have hourly minimums below the market hourly minimums, but 33 of those have maximums that exceed the market maximums.

The report notes that the City of Mandeville does not necessary have current employees at either the minimum or maximum for each position, but 41 of the current 100 employees are paid below the market-based minimums for their positions.

While Mandeville has lower entry-level wages, the city’s pay ranges for a majority of these positions are broader or greater than the market values being compared.

Health benefits for Mandeville’s workers are significantly better than most in our market, with no premiums for individuals and only $60 per month for families. The city’s employees also enjoy a $0 annual in-network deductible while all other municipalities in the comparison — Covington, Slidell, Hammond and Tangipahoa Parish — have in-network deductibles ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.

The report also touched on retirement system contributions. Mandeville participates in the Municipal Employee Retirement System of Louisiana (MERS), Plan A, which is the more expensive of the two plans offered. The employee contribution is 9.5% tax deferred income. The city pays 27.75% based on employee earnings.

However, Mandeville pays the employee’s share in addition to the city’s share. The other municipalities in this report do not. Critics of such an arrangement argue that Mandeville’s employees in effect receive 9.5% more than their listed salaries. Proponents of the arrangement argue that this helps offset the low-end pay gap compared to the other municipalities.

Download the complete report here…

The report makes four recommendations:

  1. Establish salary ranges with current market-based minimums and maximums for all job positions: These ranges should be market-based.
  2. Conduct market-based compensation review every three to five years: The salary ranges should be updated regularly, every three-to-five years.
  3. Institute a limit to total sick leave accumulation: Currently, Mandeville doesn’t cap how much sick time can be accrued.
  4. Bring incumbents into the market range: The city should bring the 41 current employees who fall below these market minimums up to par.

The council didn’t allow public comment after the presentation despite a few attendees in the audience wanting to do so. Council Chairman Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman told those in attendance that the contents of the report will be addressed at future meetings where public comment will be allowed. The Louisiana Open Meetings Law requires public bodies to allow public comment before votes are taken on agenda items.

Developing…

Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan - November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan – November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan - November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan – November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan - November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan – November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan - November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan – November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan - November 2021"/SSA Consultants)
Mandeville salary range comparison: Yellow indicates positions where Mandeville's minimum is lower than the market minimum. Mandeville Daily has highlighted in red where Mandeville's maximum is higher than market maximums. ("An Evaluation of the City of Mandeville Compensation and benefit Plan – November 2021"/SSA Consultants)

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Flood Summit Tuesday, November 2nd

Four firms to be on hand

Open-house format

MANDEVILLE — The long-awaited, much-talked-about Mandeville Flood Summit has been announced for November 2nd at the Spitzfaden Community Center from 5:30-7:00 p.m., Mayor Clay Madden announced.

Madden urges everyone interested in Mandeville’s long-term flood protection planning to attend.

See Related Story: Mayor moves on flood protection before ‘Flood Summit’

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UPDATE: Madden supported, didn’t ‘author’ Ordinance 19-33

Mayor supported, moved to introduce, voted for 19-33 and 19-11

Former council members Sica, Pulaski co-sponsored ordinances

Updated October 25, 2021: Adds background on Ordinance 19-11 and Madden being council chairman.

MANDEVILLE — Mandeville Daily recently published a story where it incorrectly identified Mayor Clay Madden as the ‘author’ of a 2019 ordinance that reduced the pay of future mayors. According to available records, then-Councilwoman at Large Lauré Sica and then-District II Councilman Michael Pulaski co-sponsored, or co-introduced, Ordinance 19-33 for consideration by the full council in November 2019.

However, Ordinance 19-33 was “moved for introduction” by then Councilman at Large Madden at the November 21, 2019, council meeting where it was adopted 5-0, including Madden’s ‘yes’ vote, according to council records.

Madden supported and voted in favor of 19-33. But prior to that in April 2019, while serving as council chairman, Madden supported Ordinance 19-11 which was the council’s first attempt to lower a future mayor’s salary. But that ordinance resulted in a lawsuit from sitting mayor Donald Villere, which led the council to repeal 19-11 with Ordinance 19-27 after setting a public referendum to amend the charter.

Madden — who was often a political foe of then Mayor Donald Villere — was a supporter of Ordinance 19-33 as well as Ordinance 19-11, making various statements to that effect, as reported in the media at the time:

Times-Picayune: Mandeville City Council cuts future mayor’s pay

Times-Picayune: Mandeville voters won’t choose mayor until 2020, but they’ll decide next month on new mayor’s paycheck

Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated October 25, 2019, screen-captured October 23, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated October 25, 2019, screen-captured October 23, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)

This inaccuracy affected two other previously published stories by Mandeville Daily, which have been corrected and noted:

UPDATE: Council restores mayor retirement pay, 3-2

OPINION: Previous City Council created ‘nuclear option’ to use against sitting mayor

Finding a record of the Mandeville City Council meeting minutes or passed ordinances and resolutions is hampered by the fact that these documents are no longer accessible online via the city’s website as they have been in the past.

On the webpage for the minutes from recent meetings, the minutes from the meeting in question — November 21, 2019 — are missing, while links to previous meetings are still available. Furthermore, some of the previous minutes have links, but they are crossed out and not working. See below:

Additionally, the document archive website the city uses is no longer available. Its link has been crossed out and not working:

The only resource still available is the CLURO and Home Rule Charter, furnished by “municode.com,” but unfortunately it does not contain all adopted ordinances, meeting agendas, resolutions or minutes from past meetings.

Mandeville Daily strives for accuracy and values the record being correct. We regret any confusion this error may have caused.

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AG says mayor’s raise to assistant was OK

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.”

Read the full AG opinion here.

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UPDATE: Council restores mayor retirement pay, 3-2

Zuckerman links 2019 mayor pay cut to positioning for then-upcoming mayor’s race

Read transcript from council debate

Other results from tonight’s meeting

Editor’s Note: A correction was made to this story on October 23rd. Mandeville Daily had incorrectly attributed authorship of Ordinance 19-33 to then-Councilman at Large Clay Madden. He supported the ordinance and voted in favor, but did not officially author it. Read the full correction here. Additionally, Councilman Skelly Kreller was factually incorrect when he stated Clay Madden was the Council Chairman when Ordinance 19-33 was introduced and adopted. Madden supported and voted in favor of 19-33. However, Madden was in fact the council chairman when Ordinance 19-11 was introduced and adopted. Ordinance 19-11 was the council’s first attempt to lower future mayors’ salary, which resulted in a lawsuit from sitting mayor Donald Villere, to which the council repealed 19-11 with Ordinance 19-27 after setting a public referendum to amend the charter.

Updated October 17, 2021, at 9:22AM – Adds quotes, context and transcript.

MANDEVILLE — The City Council voted (October 14th) to have the taxpayers fund the mayor’s contribution to the state retirement system as it does all other full-time employees, fixing a technical error in a 2019 ordinance which lowered the mayor’s salary and cut benefits.

Again, debate focused on whether the city should be paying retirement for the mayor and other employees, but this time, questions were raised about the motivation behind the 2019 ordinance which slashed the chief executive’s pay and benefits.

So I don’t think the decision they originally made with regard to that was appropriate. I don’t think the timing of it was appropriate… Look… the mayor voted for it… and as much as I’d like to make somebody live with the decisions and a position they took on something, I’m separating the person from the issue and I just feel strongly it needs to be changed. That’s why I have the position I do.

— Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman

Ordinance 21-39 had been deferred from the September 23rd meeting after debate dragged out almost an hour and the council seemed deadlocked. While discussion tonight was cantankerous at times, the council disposed of the issue in half the time it spent at the last meeting.

The ordinance corrects wording in city code and puts the mayor in the same category as all other full-time city employees with the taxpayers paying their contributions to the state retirement system.

According to state law, the office of mayor is a full-time employee and hence is required to participate in the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS). Some cities pay their employees’ contributions, other cities do not. Mandeville is a city that does.

But on November 21, 2019, the previous council voted to cut the mayor’s salary from $114,475 to $94,500, not including benefits.

This came on the heals of the passage of a November 16, 2019, public referendum to change the City Charter, allowing the city council to cut a mayor’s pay. Before the referendum, the council could only vote to raise the salary of a mayor.

The problem was, Ordinance 19-33 used flawed legal language, saying the “Mayor may participate” in MERS, which needs to be corrected to read the “Mayor shall participate,” putting it inline with state law.

Mayor Clay Madden served as a council member on the 2019 City Council and he went on record at the September 23rd council meeting to say that the 2019 council did not make a mistake because they were unaware at the time that the mayor is legally considered a full-time employee.

Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman, District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush, and District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire voted in favor. They generally agreed that one full-time employee shouldn’t be singled out and not have their benefits paid while all other full-time employees are.

“I don’t see the distinction between the mayor and other full-time employees. By the city charter the mayor is defined as a full-time employee. By state law, which the city attorney’s provided, he’s designated as a full-time employee,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman made it clear that he felt the 2019 City Council made a mistake with Ordinance 19-33 and it is the duty of the current council to fix it.

“There’s a lot of discussion that’s gone on about the interpretation of the previous council and what they intended. This council’s here now and this council has the ability to go back and look and see if what they did makes sense or not and use our best judgment and not necessarily just rely on the fact that everything that they did was ‘all-wise’ and ‘all-knowing,’” he added.


RELATED EDITORIAL: OPINION: Previous City Council created ‘nuclear option’ to use against sitting mayor


The 2019 council included two candidates for the 2020 mayor’s race, Lauré Sica and current mayor Madden. Sica and Madden both held at-large seats and were the driving force behind cutting the mayor’s pay and benefits and the public referendum that made it possible. Sica was serving as the council chairperson when 19-33 was adopted, but Madden supported and voted in favor of it.

Zuckerman questioned the motivation behind Ordinance 19-33 and how it related to the approaching 2020 mayor’s race at the time.

“I have a lot of questions about the original ordinance (Ordinance 19-33) itself that was passed and the timeline of its passage, and the fact that it affected people that were running for office (of mayor) at the time, people on the council were running (for mayor). There’s a lot that went around that original ordinance that, you know, I think it’s this council’s duty to look at it and make our best judgment and our best decision.”


Because of the mistake made by Madden and the 2019 City Council, the argument could be made that the mayor ended up making 10% less than he thought he would when he ran for the office.

Councilman at Large Rick Danielson and District II Councilman Skelly Kreller voted against Ordinance 21-39. Kreller said he believed that Madden knew exactly what he was voting for as a council member back in 2019 and intended to limit the total compensation of the mayor moving forward to $94,500. Danielson and Kreller view this ordinance as a 10% pay increase to the mayor.

Kreller — after insisting the mayor is not a full-time employee at previous meetings — acknowledged at the October 14th meeting that the chief executive is actually a full-time employee but that there is nothing wrong with making the mayor pay their retirement contributions.

“The mayor is a full-time employee of Mandeville, but he also is an elected official, so we’re not singling out an employee… We’re not singling him out… and he can be treated differently,” he said.

Kreller cited nearby cities and towns such as New Orleans, Kenner, Covington, Abita Springs and others, comparing their compensation packages and populations against Mandeville in an effort to illustrate that Mandeville is paying is over-compensating its mayor.

At one point, Kreller repeatedly referred to Madden as the council chairman in 2019 during the passage of Ordinance 19-33. However, Madden was not the council chairperson; Sica was.

Danielson said his opposition to 21-39 had nothing to do with the current mayor. He said the previous council was specific that the mayor would be responsible for paying their share if they opted to participate.

“This has nothing to do with the current mayor whatsoever… the job he’s doing or not doing… I think he’s doing a fantastic job… I think the entire city administration, the 98 employees that work for this city, and the five city council members are doing a fantastic job,” Danielson said.


In their own words

Because Mandeville Daily wishes to accurately relate each council member’s exact position on the issue, we have included most of the transcript from the discussion relating to Ordinance 21-39 during the October 14th meeting below:

33:17

McGuire:

“Well since I was the one that deferred it… I should probably… We discussed this during the budget process and during that time I did my — well I thought I did my homework — and I spoke with the former councilmen and spoke with the … finance director and confirmed that … he does have to participate (MERS)… When they, the former council, was doing this they looked, they compared salaries and benefit packages to other municipalities and there was a lot of information that was brought up at the last meeting. A lot of very good points were made. I believe it sparks, I feel, a need to discuss lots of things regarding the employees’ retirement — should the city pay their share.

“So there’s lots of things I believe we need to discuss and address soon, however, I don’t feel this is the time for it. I feel that there’s lots of things, right? We can discuss intent, we discuss what they were thinking (2019 City Council). We can clean it up, what have you. I think it’s… I went around the world and I came back to where I was in the beginning, and it is, the mayor is a legal — according to the legal definition — a full-time employee as well as it also states that in the charter, and the city pays for — whether we agree with it or not, and we can discuss that later — we pay for every other employee’s share of retirement so therefore I’m in support of the mayor receiving that same benefit as well.”

35:50

Kreller:

“The mayor is a full-time employee of Mandeville… But he also is an elected official, so we’re not singling out an employee… We’re not singling him out… and he can be treated differently…

“The only thing that really needs to be changed is that word in the first sentence. But the second sentence is very specify… it says that he will pay his percentage of the retirement.

“Businesses do not pay 100% of retirement for their employees. I have mentioned that I was in business for 38 years. I paid my portion and the employees paid their portion. Yes there are exceptions, but not many.

“And this has nothing to do with this council trying to change the police or anything like this in civil service. This has only to do with the mayor. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the salary of the mayor.

“I have not changed my position on this. He is a special case… He is not an ‘employee’ that has to be linked and lumped together with all the other employees of the city.

“I have not changed my position.”

Zuckerman:

“I don’t see the distinction between the mayor and other full time employees. By the city charter the mayor is defined as a full-time employee. By state law, which the city attorney’s provided, he’s designated as a full-time employee.

“There’s a lot of discussion that’s gone on about the interpretation of the previous council and what they intended. This council’s here now and this council has the ability to go back and look and see if what they did makes sense or not and use our best judgment and not necessarily just rely on the fact that everything that they did was ‘all-wise’ and ‘all-knowing.’

“I have a lot of questions about the original ordinance (Ordinance 19-33) itself that was passed and the timeline of its passage, and the fact that it affected people that were running for office (of mayor) at the time, people on the council were running (for mayor). There’s a lot that went around that original ordinance that, you know, I think it’s this council’s duty to look at it and make our best judgment and our best decision.

“I think that all of those things. That Mrs. McGuire brought up and even Dr. Kreller brought up… whether the city ought to be paying 100% of employees’ portions of retirement… all valid questions, and I know he’s got strong opinions about that…

“I look forward to any proposals, Dr. Kreller, that you bring to change that for the city. I think there are some practical issues in implementing it that we’d have to address. I don’t think it has anything to do with this ordinance and I haven’t changed my position on it, so that’s where I stand.”

40:50

Bush:

“I’ve been pretty consistent… I think I’ve been very consistent on this issue. … I like the idea of the city providing a benefit like that to all employees as I want to attract top talent. To work for the city. I think that’s incredibly important for any business and I think it’s incredibly important for the City of Mandeville.”

Zuckerman: “That’s an excellent point. I agree with Mrs. Bush.”

Kreller:

“To follow that up, how many cities, municipalities, around here pay 100% for retirement for the mayor?”

(Asks council clerk, who said she hadn’t researched it except back in 2019 when no other municipalities paid 100%.)

“And I don’t think anything has really changed since then.”

41:57

Danielson:

“This has nothing to do with the current mayor whatsoever… the job he’s doing or not doing… I think he’s doing a fantastic job… i think the entire city administration, the 98 employees that work for this city, and the five city council members are doing a fantastic job. What this has to do with (for) me is Ordinance No. 19-33, which stated two things:

“The mayor’s salary will be set for the full term at $94,500, and the mayor will make the employees’ portion of the contribution. That’s what it is.

“So what I’ve offered in the past, which failed, so I’m not going to offer an amendment tonight, but I want to make it clear for everybody is that that council said the mayor will make that contribution.”

42:44

“What I looked at I said okay, I get it. Year number one, the mayor made the full contribution, 10%. Year two, the city would pay a third, the mayor would pay two thirds. Year three, mayor one third, city two thirds. And at the end, at the fourth year, it’s back to 100%.

“Because what that really goes to is a 10% pay raise, by going from what the mayor was contributing this past year to paying in full is a 10% pay raise. And he is a full-time employee. Totally agree. The rest of our employees that are eligible are getting a 2.5% pay raise. That’s what I looked at.

“That’s why I had offered a third, a third, a third as what I felt to be a fair and equitable correction to an ordinance the previous council made. So I stand by that. I’m not going to make the amendment for it because I know where it’s going to go. But I want to make it very clear on all those points of why I brought up why I did and where I still stand tonight.”

Zuckerman:

“My position on this really has nothing to do … with the current mayor either.

“For me, I’m looking at the original ordinance. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all for a current council to go in and look at what a previous council did and pass judgment on whether that needs to be changed or not. I think that’s why we’re elected.

“So I don’t think the decision they originally made with regard to that was appropriate. I don’t think the timing of it was appropriate… Look… the mayor voted for it… and as much as I’d like to make somebody live with the decisions and a position they took on something, I’m separating the person from the issue and I just feel strongly it needs to be changed. That’s why I have the position I do.”

44:48

Kreller:

“Also the mayor was the chair of that council and he has mentioned in the past that there might have been a little misunderstanding that maybe he didn’t understand completely and things like this… As the chair and who put up this ordinance 19-33, he should have went (sic) to the city attorneys and talked to them and … got perfectly clear what he was presenting to the council and what the vote was. And remember, the vote was 5-0. But he was the chair, and there’s no excuse.

“I can’t see any excuse that anybody could make… That’s shame on him or shame on whoever was the mayor. It doesn’t make a difference, okay?

“What makes a difference here is, one, he possibly didn’t know he’d be running for mayor then… two, he might have thought he wouldn’t win, but he knew what he was voting on then.

“And as the chair… he should do the research, and I assume he did the research, and hopefully he talked to the attorneys. I mean, we sure talk to the attorneys.”

Editor’s Note: Councilman Skelly Kreller was factually incorrect when he stated Clay Madden was the Council Chairman when Ordinance 19-33 was introduced and adopted. However, Madden supported and voted in favor of 19-33. Madden was in fact the council chairman when Ordinance 19-11 was introduced and adopted. Ordinance 19-11 was the council’s first attempt to lower future mayors’ salary, which resulted in a lawsuit from sitting mayor Donald Villere, to which the council repealed 19-11 with Ordinance 19-27 and set public referendum to amend the charter.

Zuckerman:

“I actually agree with a lot of that, but the point I was trying to make is that I think the mayor was wrong for voting for it, so I’m here to correct it.

“He did vote for it… but I think it was a bad vote. I think he made a mistake, and I’m voting to change it.”

47:04

Danielson:

“I agree with Mr. Zuckerman on the fact that we have a right to change previous ordinance whatever it might be, and that’s very important and it’s good government that we go and we do some of those things. That’s why I kind of felt that mine was a compromise… that kind of met in the middle on both sides of that thing.

“But I also find it interesting from a financial aspect is that the benefit to the mayor’s compensation on the retirement contribution is about $37,000 a year for a cit of 12,500 people, and when you compare that to the city of New Orleans, if I’m not mistaken, the contribution for the mayor of New Orleans which is almost 250,000, is $35,000… it’s just interesting to me… Is there a bigger question here on what we need to possibly be looking at down the road.”

McGuire:

“Yes.”

47:57

Zuckerman:

“I hear the comparison about size of the city in terms of population all the time and we compare Mandeville to other cities by population and I just got to question whether or not that’s the most appropriate comparison to make.

“I mean, do you take everything that we do in direct proportion to the city of New Orleans? Are there other metrics that we ought to look at cities that we should compare to? Is it quality of life? Should we be looking at cities with a similar quality of life?

“Certainly New Orleans or Hammond or Slidell may not necessarily have the quality the City of Mandeville does. But we’re going to benchmark what we do against those because of population. That doesn’t make sense to me. Should it be the average tax base, what the average citizen pays in revenue, the average number of employees that a municipality has that the mayor has to manage? So … I personally don’t buy into we need to compare to another municipality just based off population. That correlation… I haven’t been able to make that connection yet.”

48:56

Kreller:

“What about not just comparing to New Orleans but let’s compare to Kenner, Slidell, Hammond, Covington and Abita. He (mayor) ranks the highest on all of those cities and municipalities. And so, some of those are definitely compared (sic) to us. “


Other business from meeting

In other business at tonight’s meeting:

MINUTES:
  1. Adoption of the September 23, 2021, Regular Meeting Minutes
REPORTS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS:

To consider and take action with respect to adopting a resolution confirming an election date change pursuant to Executive Order of the Governor; establishing a new date to canvass the returns of the election; and providing for other matters in connection therewith.

PRESENTATION:

Ms. Suzanne Krieger, chairperson of the St. Tammany Levee Drainage and Conservation District, will discuss the proposed Constitutional Amendment # 3 – funding for the Levee District.

OLD BUSINESS:
  1. Adoption of Ordinance No. 21-23: An ordinance amending the official zoning map of the City of Mandeville to rezone the south one half of square seventy-four (74) of the City of Mandeville, st. Tammany parish, state of Louisiana, from pm-2 marina district – non-waterfront lots, to o, open space/recreation; and providing for further matters in connection therewith (COUNCILWOMAN MCGUIRE, DISTRICT III)

Adopted 5-0: Danielson: Yes; McGuire: Yes; Bush: Yes; Kreller: Yes; Zuckerman: Yes

  1. Adoption of Ordinance No. 21-24: An ordinance amending the official zoning map of the City of Mandeville to rezone double square 33, lot 2 of the City of Mandeville, st. Tammany parish, state of Louisiana, from R-3 multi-family residential district, to O, open space/recreation; and providing for further matters in connection therewith (Councilwoman McGuire, District III)

Adopted 5-0: Danielson: Yes; McGuire: Yes; Bush: Yes; Kreller: Yes; Zuckerman: Yes

  1. Adoption of Ordinance No. 21-39: An ordinance of the council of the City of Mandeville amending Section 2-8 of chapter 2 of the City of Mandeville Code of Ordinances and providing for other matters in connection therewith. (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large)

Adopted 3-2: Danielson: No; McGuire: Yes; Bush: Yes; Kreller: No; Zuckerman: Yes

NEW BUSINESS:
  1. Establish Council meeting dates for the months of November and December

    November 18, 2021 and December 16, 2021 (only one meeting each month due to holidays)

All in favor.

  1. Approval of the special event and liquor application for the Walk a Mile Mandeville 2021 on Saturday, October 30, 2021 from 4-8pm, no rain date. Event location will be from the Mandeville harbor to the Mandeville Trailhead. (Councilwoman McGuire, District III)

All in favor.

  1. Approval of Change Order #1, Trailhead Splash Park Rehabilitation A/E Project No. 2101A06; formerly No. 2001A02 for an increase in contract time by 30 days for a total contract time of 150 days. No Change in dollar amount. (Councilwoman McGuire, District III)

All in favor.

  1. Approval of NTE amount for Hurricane Ida debris removal project pursuant to the Emergency Debris Removal Contract from $1 million to a NTE $5 million (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large).

All in favor.

  1. Approval of NTE amount for Hurricane Ida debris monitoring project pursuant to the Emergency Debris Monitoring Contract from $250,000 to $850,000 (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large).

All in favor.

  1. Adoption of Resolution No. 21-44: A Resolution confirming an election date change pursuant to Executive Order of the Governor; establishing a new date to canvass the returns of the election; and providing for other matters in connection therewith. (Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large)

All in favor.

  1. Adoption of Resolution No. 21-45: A resolution of the Mandeville city council endorsing the application of Susan Danielson (551 Carroll Street, Mandeville, Louisiana) for participation in the restoration tax abatement program project no. 2016-1452-RTA(Councilman Zuckerman, At-Large)

All in favor.

  1. Adoption of Resolution No. 21-46: A resolution of the city council of the City of Mandeville accepting the bids for the Monroe at East Causeway intersection & traffic signal improvements project A/E Project No. 20-1956 and authorizing the mayor to execute a contract with the lowest apparent bid Kort’s Construction Services Inc. And providing for other matters in connection therewith (Councilman Kreller, District II)

Amended to add wording about properly moving and relocating trees.

All in favor.

  1. Adoption of Resolution No. 21-47: A resolution of the city council of the City of Mandeville accepting the recommendation of the audit committee to contract with Postlethwaite & Netterville, for the purpose of conducting a financial audit for the City of Mandeville as of and for the year ending august 31, 2021 and authorizing the mayor to execute an agreement and providing for other matters in connection therewith (Councilman Danielson, At-Large)

All in favor.

  1. Introduction of Ordinance No. 21-28: An ordinance of the city council of the City of Mandeville amending the Code of Ordinances, chapter 11, Section 11-64 urinating in public places prohibited; definition; penalty; and providing for other matters in connection therewith: (Councilman Kreller, District II)

To be voted on October 28, 2021.

All in favor.

  1. Introduction of Ordinance No. 21-29: An ordinance of the city council of the City of Mandeville approving a conditional use permit for accessory outdoor seating within the Jefferson Street right of way (Councilwoman McGuire, District III)

To be voted on October 28, 2021.

All in favor.

  1. Introduction of Ordinance No. 21-30: An ordinance of the city council of the City of Mandeville amending the Code of Ordinances, Chapter 10, to include Section 10-73 as a prohibition of parking or traversing on median strip; definition; penalty; and providing for other matters in connection therewith (Councilman Kreller, District II)

To be voted on October 28, 2021.

All in favor.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for October 28th at 6 p.m.

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OPINION: Previous City Council created ‘nuclear option’ to use against sitting mayor

2019 public referendum allows City Council to cut re-elected mayor’s pay

Could be used to force mayor into submission or block future opponent

Previous mayor sounded alarm, no one seemed to care

-Editorial-

Editor’s Note: A correction was made to this editorial on October 23rd. Mandeville Daily had incorrectly attributed authorship of Ordinance 19-33 to then-Councilman at Large Clay Madden. He supported the ordinance and voted in favor, but did not officially author it. Read the full correction here.

Those are strong words. Incendiary, some might say.

But it’s true. Read the City of Mandeville’s Home Rule Charter and pay careful attention to the changes made with a 2019 public referendum that was forced on voters by the previous City Council so that they could cut the pay of future mayors.

The charter, adopted in 1985, only allowed a council to increase a mayor’s pay, not cut it. That changed in 2019.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different story as to why the events in 2019 transpired. Some say the council was trying to punish then-mayor Donald Villere. Others will tell you they were trying to contain what they say was a runaway salary for the mayor of a town with a population of just over 12,000. Yet others suggest it had to do with jockeying for position in the upcoming election.

Whatever the real reason is, it happened. And now we’re stuck with it.

Changing the Charter: ’The road to hell is paved with good intentions’

After a months-long battle with then-mayor Donald Villere, the 2019 council finally conceded the Home Rule Charter prevented them from cutting a mayor’s pay, so they changed it… with the help of the voters.

It didn’t occur to anyone else at the time that maybe there was a good reason why the authors of the city charter didn’t give the legislative branch the ability to cut the pay of the executive branch’s current occupant.

It’s worth noting that then-councilman at large Clay Madden was in favor of just cutting the pay and benefits without a charter change. In fact, he and others on the council tried that first, before the 2019 referendum. He told the Times-Picayune in April 2019 that he believed it was permissible under the existing charter:

Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated April 26, 2019, screen-captured September 30, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated April 26, 2019, screen-captured September 30, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)

While the 2019 charter amendment allows the City Council to cut the mayor’s pay to whatever they want, it also says the “salary of the mayor shall not be reduced during the term for which the mayor is elected.”

Therein lies the rub.

There’s nothing preventing the City Council from drastically cutting the salary of a popular first-term mayor whom they don’t like, and having it take effect in his second term, assuming re-election. So in effect, the Mandeville City Council has the authority as of 2019 to cut the pay of the current, sitting mayor.

This change to the charter also sets up a situation where the middle-class could be eliminated entirely from ever running for mayor. Only the poor or the independently wealthy who no longer need to work could afford to run.

Imagine there was an independently wealthy, millionaire City Council member — Jane Doe — whom the other council members really liked and wanted her to run for mayor to replace the current, term-limited mayor.

Now let’s pretend there is a financially responsible, upper-middle class guy — John E. Appleseed — who has a family, a mortgage, car notes, and kids in private school, and he earns about $100,000 a year in his current job. He has great ideas for the city and wants to run for mayor, and his friends and colleagues are urging him to do so.

All the pro-Jane-Doe City Council would need to do is to set the mayor’s salary for the next term to some ridiculously low amount, like $50,000, and Mr. Appleseed wouldn’t be able to run.

This is a real problem we have here. The intention was to prevent someone from “getting rich” as mayor, yet it created a situation where potentially only non-working millionaires could ever become mayor.

Nuclear Option: ‘Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines’

We can call it the Mandeville City Council’s “nuclear option” to force a mayor into submission, or to prevent a possible rival from running in a future race.

Of course, Mandeville Daily is in no way suggesting there is actually a plan afoot to do this. We’re merely making the point that this City Council — and all future city councils — have the authority to do it, thanks to the Home Rule Charter change in 2019.

And we need to let go of this notion that we can’t undo anything the previous city council did, including this pay cut, as if it’s the Roe v. Wade of Mandeville politics.

And what’s more, there have been references made to “the will of the people” to reduce the mayor’s pay, referring to the 2019 public referendum.

The 2019 public referendum did not cut the mayor’s pay. Let’s get that straight once and for all. The referendum merely — by accident or by design — created this nuclear option the council now holds over the mayor.

Irony: ’It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife’

What makes this all the more interesting is the bitter layer of irony heaped on top.

Madden himself was a council member back in 2019 and supported the original ordinance which was to cut the next mayor’s salary in April of that year. Villere vetoed it, but the council came back and overrode the veto to which Villere sued the City Council for violating its own charter. This ultimately led to the public referendum, which changed the charter to authorize the council to reduce the chief executive’s pay.

Immediately after the referendum passed with 70% of the vote, the City Council adopted Ordinance 19-33 which cut the mayor’s salary from $114,475 to $94,500, and it excluded the mayor from having their state retirement contributions paid by the city like all other full-time employees.

Councilman Madden supported the pay cut, the change to the charter, as well as removing the retirement benefits.

Villere was outspoken on the matter, even though the pay cut would not have affected him because he was term-limited to leave office anyway. His remarks to The Times-Picayune in October 2019 confirm it.

Perspective: ‘Time will say nothing but I told you so’

Whether you agreed with Villere’s policies as mayor or not, think he did a good job or not, one thing is clear… He was right about this.

The public’s perception of Villere’s relationship with the City Council in 2019 was a real problem. Let’s face it. We don’t have the press coverage shining the light of day on local government we once did. There’s no more pesky beat reporter who covers everything at City Hall. Read “Mandeville Daily to cover City Council” to understand Mandeville Daily’s perspective on local news coverage in the modern era.

Even today, Nola.com — a.k.a. The Times-Picayune — provides spotty coverage of Mandeville government, usually only when something controversial or bad happens relevant to people outside of Mandeville.

The scuttlebutt in 2019 among friends and on social media was that Villere and the council were always fighting. Accurate or not, whether you blame Villere or blame the council, that was the perception that was floating around.

Because most people don’t bother attending City Council meetings or even watching them on Facebook, and there are no local beat reporters churning out multiple stories a week on every aspect of local government, the citizens only know what they hear from friends.

So to the casual observer, a fight over the mayor’s salary, where lawsuits were filed and lines drawn in the sand, naturally made Villere look like he was fighting to keep his salary from being cut.

He was not.

Mandeville v. Covington: ‘Separate but equal’

One of the arguments that then-councilwoman at large and eventual unsuccessful mayoral candidate Lauré Sica used to justify the pay cut was that it would put Mandeville in-line with Covington. The inference was this comparison was based on population — according to reporting by The Times-Picayune in April 2019 which attributed the remarks to Sica — and hence Mandeville’s mayor should be paid about the same as the Covington mayor which was $90,700.

Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated April 26, 2019, screen-captured September 30, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
Excerpt from Times-Picayune article dated April 26, 2019, screen-captured September 30, 2021, from Nola.com.(Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)

The only problem was, the numbers didn’t add up. But again, no one except Villere seemed to notice.

Mandeville’s population was 12,475 in 2019 and Covington’s was 10,564, according to the United States Census Bureau. In who’s world is that “similar?”

According to a recently discovered, newfangled witch’s device called the calculator, that’s an 18% difference. Would you consider a 5-foot-tall person “similar” in height to a 6-foot-tall person? No woman on Tinder would, that’s for sure.

By this reasoning, the mayor of Mandeville’s salary should have been cut to about $107,000, not $94,500. It’s simple algebra.

And who determined that Covington should be the gold standard anyway? Suppose their mayor is underpaid? Suppose they’re overpaid? What does that have to do with Mandeville?

And should population really be the determiner for how much a mayor is compensated? Doesn’t a full-time mayor still work 40 hours a week whether he is the leader of 12,000 or 120,000?

Why shouldn’t we use the wealth of the city to determine the mayor’s pay? If you think of a city as a family, can’t rich families afford nicer stuff, like fancier cars, better clothes, better food, and, yes, bigger allowances for their children?

Doesn’t Mandeville have nicer streets, better parks, better everything? Why else do people come here from all over the region every Saturday and Sunday to enjoy the lakefront and shop and dine down here?

Why do people move here just to get into the famed “Mandeville school district?”

Who says we can’t pay our mayor, councilmen and employees more, and shower all Mandeville workers with nicer perks and benefits, like taxpayer-funded retirement contributions?

If you consider per capita income for Mandeville versus Covington in 2019, it’s night and day, with Mandeville at $45,465 and Covington at only at $32,455. Mandeville’s median owner-occupied housing value was $288,000 while Covington’s was only $232,900.

Looking at these numbers — if you still insist on using Covington as the benchmark — then the Mandeville chief executive should fall somewhere in the range of $104,000 to $127,000. Remember, Villere was at $114,475 before the charter change.

So the arguments used back in 2019 really didn’t hold water then and they don’t pan out today either. But the greater travesty of justice wasn’t the pay cut itself, it was the public referendum.

About-face: ’It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds’

We may have already witnessed the beginning of the end.

At the September 23rd City Council meeting, two council members were adamant they would not support Ordinance 21-39 which would have restored taxpayer funding of the mayor’s retirement contributions plus correct legal language in city code created by — you guessed it — Ordinance 19-33, the instrument that Madden and the 2019 City Council used to cut the mayor’s pay and strip away retirement benefits that Madden wants restored.

Councilman at Large Rick Danielson, with support from District II Councilman Skelly Kreller, attempted two unsuccessful amendments to 21-39 to prevent the mayor from returning to 100% funding on his retirement contributions. But then at the last minute and before a final vote on passage, they managed to sway District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire to help them get the vote deferred to a future meeting.

And who would benefit if this council restores the mayor’s state retirement contributions? None other than Clay Madden, the same City Council member who in 2019 voted to end those benefits.

Madden insisted at the last meeting that the 2019 City Council didn’t make a mistake with Ordinance 19-33.

He said the 2019 council was simply unaware that the mayor is legally considered a full-time employee, and required to participate in the retirement system. Ordinance 19-33 said the mayor “may participate” but if he or she does so, they would be responsible for paying their own contributions into the system, not the city.

Nowhere — at least for me — was it said that the former council made a mistake. That was never said. What happened was … there was a piece of information that was not known at the time of the vote. It was not known at the time by me, or any of the other former councilmen, that the mayor had to participate. That was information we got when I became mayor.

— Mayor Clay Madden, September 23, 2021

Madden apparently didn’t intend to contribute to the state retirement system if elected mayor, so once he took office and the state told him the contributions were required by law, this in effect became a pay cut.

Fair enough.

But as long as we’re being fair, let’s be honest too. Those on the 2019 City Council did most undeniably make a mistake, including Madden. Just because they were unaware of the law doesn’t let them off the hook. As the old saying goes, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Mandeville Daily holds the position that all full-time employees at the City of Mandeville should have the same benefits. This council should vote to restore this benefit out of fairness to the office of mayor.

Conclusion: ‘The chickens are coming home to roost’

The real problem remains the 2019 referendum and how it amended the charter.

The 2019 council and Madden were shortsighted, or hasty at the very least, in crafting the wording. It opened Pandora’s box, and now we’re faced with the very real possibility that a city council may cut the pay of a sitting mayor, even if it doesn’t take effect until his next term.

Madden could become a victim of his own actions from 2019.

Do you think they wouldn’t do it? Think again.

Madden’s been butting heads with the current council on a number of issues since he took office as mayor. Kreller and Danielson are both embroiled in the aforementioned retirement contribution battle with the mayor.

Danielson and others on the council were perturbed at an August meeting when it was revealed that Madden had given his executive assistant a $10,000 raise without telling the council.

Months before that, Madden had pushed contracts before the council after having sent notice-of-award letters to contractors to work on flood protection projects before a much-touted public flood summit had been scheduled, seemingly putting the proverbial cart before the horse. This drew harsh reactions from several on the council.

Barring some crazy, unforeseen revelation, none of these things were illegal or even unethical.

They may have been unpopular with the council, but for all we know, the voters may have liked them, or perhaps not. Maybe Madden will overwhelmingly be re-elected in three years, or maybe he’ll go down in flames. Who knows.

Madden’s had his share of successes. Even his critics gave him credit for his performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Morale is reportedly up at City Hall. His pick of Todd Schliem as the new police chief was roundly praised. He’s a great public face for the city and highly visible, which is part of the role of a mayor. Has he had missteps? Sure… or maybe. Again, it’s up to the voters to decide.

Consider what could happen next.

Let’s assume Ordinance 21-39 is adopted at the next council meeting, restoring the mayor’s 10% retirement contribution. What if in response Kreller or Danielson introduce an ordinance that would cut the mayor’s salary to $85,909 next term, which would be the equivalent of backing out the 10% retirement contribution so that the mayor still ends up with only $94,500 in total compensation? All they would need is three votes.

And then what would happen if Madden angers the council again, and they decide Mandeville is better off without him and pass an ordinance to cut his pay even more drastically, should he be re-elected?

It’s all hypothetical at the moment. But it’s a slippery slope.

The mayor should be held accountable for his policies and actions, but only at the ballot box, not through some unintended consequence of a badly worded charter amendment.

Any move to reduce the mayor’s pay at this point would seem petty and set a dangerous precedent, one that wouldn’t have been possible just two years ago.

Until this is fixed by another amendment to the charter, the office of mayor shall live under the threat of this nuclear option, reducing him or her to little more than a figurehead.

Mandeville Daily holds the position that the 2019 public referendum to allow the City Council to reduce a mayor’s pay was a mistake with many unintended consequences as detailed in this piece.

The change to the charter created by the referendum should be reversed, returning the section on the mayor’s compensation to its pre-2019 state. If reducing the chief executive’s pay should ever become such an emergency in the future, the City Council would still have the authority — as they always have — to ask the public to reduce the pay, each and every time they should ever want to do so.

But the City Council itself should not have the authority to do it directly. The 2019 charter change has created a powerful political gadget for seated council members to punish mayors or block competitors from running… it gave them a nuclear option.

It would appear the 2019 City Council’s chickens are coming home to roost.


Email Mandeville Daily

Updated 10/2/2021 at 8:25AM: Expands on why change to charter was bad and other problems it creates. Adds Mandeville Daily’s position.

Updated 10/1/2021 at 7:30AM: Clarifies remarks on Madden’s performance as mayor and his connection to referendum.

Updated 10/1/2021 at 4:42AM: Removes “and benefits” from first paragraph. The City Council has always been able to adjust the benefits of a mayor. Adds quote from Madden. Adds more references to 2019 referendum.

References:

”Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.”
—General “Buck” Turgidson, “Dr. Strangelove”

”Time will say nothing but I told you so,”
— W. H. Auden, “If I Could Tell You”

“It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.”
— Alanis Morrissette, “Irony”

“It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
— Doc Holliday, “Tombstone”

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