DA: Cantrelle to pay back $38,000

Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle must give back more than $38,000 in salary back pay he received last month.

Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant issued an opinion on Friday saying Cantrelle is required to refund Lafourche at least the $38,779.31 he received on May 19 of this year, as well as any salary paid over the amount approved by the council in the 2017 budget. The payment was brought to light by Lafourche’s Legislative Internal Auditor Reggie Bagala, who discovered it in late May.

Cantrelle said he read Morvant’s opinion and will return the money promptly.

“I have no problems returning the money. I will return the money until they can solve it. I don’t think it was about the money, I think it was about the process of not going in front of the council. If that’s what it takes, I’ll return everything. It don’t bother me,” Cantrelle said.

The money to be refunded is back pay that parish administration officials gave to Cantrelle in what they deemed was a miscalculation of his salary for both 2016 and this year. In 2014, the parish council approved Ordinance No. 5444 to give the parish president a raise, beginning with the next parish president term in 2016. The raise tied the president’s salary to an average of the salaries of the assessor, clerk of court and sheriff in Lafourche.

Due to the increase, the 2016 salary for the parish president was set at $122,812, up from $74,952 in 2015. However, in Sept. 2016 then-Finance and Human Resources Director Tommy Lasseigne first brought up the possibility of Cantrelle being underpaid. According to his calculation, Cantrelle was to actually be paid $142,502.30 for the year.

Neither Lasseigne at the time nor Morvant in his opinion were able to determine exactly how previous HR Director Savonye Anderson came up with the original 2016 salary. However, Morvant attached figures he found for 2015 salaries of the three officials used to determine the average that he thinks Anderson used to come up with the number. According to Morvant, the figures used considered only the base salaries for the assessor and clerk of court. Lasseigne included supplements, statutory allowances and other amounts in his calculations, boosting their salaries enough to increase the average to the $142,000 figure.

In his opinion, Morvant said the raise ordinance had a number of deficiencies, including its use of salary and compensation interchangeably. Morvant recommended the council only use salary and remove the word compensation within the ordinance.

In Oct. 2016, as parish officials sought to determine Cantrelle’s proper pay for 2016, Lasseigne again recalculated the number to be $153,338 based on data from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s reports for the three offices. Cantrelle never received any back pay, and by March of this year parish officials were concluding how to determine the proper payment and make it. Lasseigne, then acting as interim parish administrator, emailed Morvant on Mar. 15 about the salary discrepancy. The next day, Morvant told him it seemed to be an accounting issue.

Carrel Hymel, the new finance director, determined on May 18 that Cantrelle’s total back pay for both 2016 and nine pay periods this year to be $38,779.81. The next day, the parish issued two checks totaling the back pay to Cantrelle, since the state tax table would not permit Human Resources Manager Kristy Chiasson to write a check for more than $25,000.

In late May, Bagala noticed the two payments and questioned them. Hymel spoke with David Stagni from the accounting firm Stagni & Company concerning the back pay on June 20. Based on its own research concerning the officals’ salaries and parish payments, Stagni’s company issued a letter on June 22 determining Hymel’s calculation was short and another $5,925 was due to Cantrelle. There is no record of Cantrelle receiving this additional pay.

Movant wrote that he has since spoken to Stagni regarding this matter, and Stagni concurs with his opinion. In his opinion, he said the parish president is required to make a supplemental appropriation to adjust a salary in the 2017 budget, which the council then has to approve.

“In the case at issue, two (2) checks were issued payable to James Cantrelle to cover what was determined to be an underpayment of salary. No supplemental appropriation was done,” Morvant wrote. “In light of the fact that this amount was over and above the salary amount submitted by the Administration and approved by the Council in the 2017 budget, a supplemental appropriation is required. According to the Charter, any payments made in violation of LPHRC Article VI, Section 2 B are absolutely null and of no legal effect.”

Cantrelle said he would bring the back pay issue before the council as a supplemental appropriation if required.

“If we have to bring it in front of the council, then we have no choice if that’s what the decision is,” Cantrelle said. “It’s just on whatever they say to do. Whatever they say to do, I’ll do it. I have no problems listening to the district attorney and no problems listening to anybody else.”

Jimmy Cantrelle