Baton Rouge station WBRZ’s Chris Nakamoto found himself under arrest last month for making inquiries about the salary of the town’s Mayor Gerald Jamarr Williams, which had nearly doubled recently to over $50,000. The city attorney – also appointed by its aldermen to serve as the judge of its mayor’s court, making her both prosecutor and judge – said Nakamoto had acted in a disorderly fashion while trying to access town records. Without comment, the attorney/judge dropped the charges recently.
It’s not the first time a mayor’s salary in a small Louisiana municipality has touched a nerve. In 2013, the newly-elected mayor of Port Allen, population 5,101, went on a spending spree for her inauguration and that and other spending prompted the aldermen to cut her salary $20,000 – all the way down to $65,000 annually – but done illegally (municipal legislatures cannot cut mayoral salaries during their terms). In 2014, irate constituents threw her out of office.
The connection between the two entities does not stop with these kinds of incidents. In 2011, both Port Allen’s and White Castle’s mayors, along with those of St. Gabriel and New Roads, were convicted consequent to a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe for corruption.
More pointedly, neither Louisiana’s Constitution nor statutes place common sense limits on use of taxpayer dollars in this way (for municipalities under these; 34 operate under home rule charters which may have such a stipulation). Consider where I live, Bossier City; the mayor there of a city of over 60,000 most recently made around $94,000 a year for running a city with 714 employees. By contrast in White Castle, Williams supervises a municipality with a grand total of 38 employees – but actually only 23, as 15 are under its elected police chief, and five of those are the part-time aldermen. Put another way, while Bossier City’s mayoral salary represented about a tenth of a percent of all city revenues, in White Castle it constitutes about 1.25 percent.
Simply, for such small municipalities no reason exists to have someone paid full-time as chief executive, much less rake in salaries that exceed the state’s per capita income. The amount of work involved does not justify it, and that past mayors of relatively small burgs have shown this tendency to look for extracurricular earnings indicates perhaps the relatively high pay for little work attracts people more interested in making a buck than in public service.
The deadline for filing bills has passed in the ongoing regular session of the Legislature, but for the future it should legislate into being a statute that regulates pay according to the tripartite classification (village, town, city) of Louisiana municipalities. For a village, maximum part-time mayoral pay per month could be set at something like $1,000 and for a town $1,500 a month. Cities from the lowest end (5,001) up to 24,000 could earn a maximum of $2,000 a month, while cities above that population level could have a full-time mayor. Up to 100,000 people they could earn no more than $100,000; above that, there would be no cap.
It’s just too easy for a mayor with a friendly set of aldermen to set an inflated salary for the amount of work really necessary. Even if enough constituents learn of this and boot out all of these officials at the next elections, this waste of taxpayer resources could continue for as many as four years. Limits need placing on mayoral salaries at the next available opportunity.