Long-simmering tension between the City Council and mayor erupted again Tuesday as the council overrode two mayoral vetoes and disagreed over an employee being paid by the wrong department.
The employee, whom city leaders did not name, was an administrator for the Fire Department but was supposed to transfer to a similar position with the Police Department with the same hours, salary and benefits. Mayor Les Fillingame and his department heads decided on the employee’s transfer in September, so the council removed the position from the Fire Department’s budget and added it to the Police Department’s.
For reasons unclear, however, the employee refused to make the transfer yet still collected a salary from the police payroll for about three months. Council members said Fillingame knew about it but did nothing, so in December they unanimously voted to defund and eliminate her position from the Police Department as well.
Councilman Joey Boudin said it’s illegal for the city to pay an employee outside the confines of the city’s budget.
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“Just because he’s breaking the law doesn’t mean we have to,” Boudin said. “If he needed to change it, he should have brought it to our attention immediately.”
Still, the employee continued working at the Fire Department because the mayor vetoed the council’s action from December, saying the council gave no justification for an “arbitrary decision that targets a position in a department that is currently operating well under its budget.”
The council unanimously overrode that veto on Tuesday. Because only the mayor has hiring and firing powers, the employee may fill another city position.
Vetoes and overrides have become common in Bay St. Louis. The mayor in the past has vetoed council decisions to request a federal probe into the unknown whereabouts of more than $300,000 in U.S. Department of Justice money and to file notices of potential bond claims.
In discussions Tuesday, the mayor said the plan in September was to allow the employee time to transition to the Police Department and to maintain an office at the fire station so she could serve both departments.
“I think that they are in transition now,” Fillingame said. “I was going to be of the opinion that even when she gets to be much more of a police administrator that she would stay in the Fire Department, that she would maintain a presence in that office.”
Councilman Doug Seal appeared frustrated with the mayor’s comment and quickly responded.
“The (fire) chief was very clear that he wanted an assistant chief (and) he did not need an administrator,” Seal said sternly. “There was no shared person. There was clear, concise information that you agreed upon — this person would go to the Police Department.
“This is the only way for us to handle this — because you’re not following what we agreed upon — is to defund that position,” he said. “It’s simple. There’s no gray area.”
Fillingame said the employee is doing administrative work for the Police Department but doing it from the Fire Department.
“I have authority over where people’s offices are,” the mayor said, “and I would suggest that she maintain her office (in the Fire Department) even though she’s doing most of the police administrative work.”
Council President Mike Favre asked Police Capt. Wes Mayley if the woman was indeed doing police administrative work.
“Has she done anything in the last three months?” Favre asked.
“She has come by the station, yes,” Mayley said, adding nothing further.
The crowd of residents erupted into laughter and jeers.
Favre shook his head.
The mayor tried explaining the employee had come down with an illness, but the council members would hear none of it and took immediate action.
“We’ve got a motion on the floor, we got a second, any other discussion?” Favre said.
Five hands from the council bench quickly raised.
Councilman Bobby Compretta abstained because he had not attended the previous meeting when the matter was first discussed. Nevertheless, his abstention counted as a vote with the majority.