Lafourche Parish Council narrowly increased the coroner’s salary. The government and coroner are under investigation for past payments.
Council leader Armand Autin, who proposed the pay rise, said the change will correct long-standing discrepancies in the ordinances that govern how community coroner Dr. John King, was paid. According to Autin, the ordinance will not have a retrospective effect on how King has been paid up to that point, thereby preserving the integrity of the Louisiana State Police investigation.
“This cleans up our paperwork and allows us to move forward. As of today, this regulation does not address the inaccuracies in the paperwork that have existed for the past decade from now,” Autin said. “It’s from today.”
The Lafourche Parish Council narrowly passed an ordinance that increased the salary of the parish’s coroner. Both the coroner and Lafourche Town Hall are under investigation for payments received by the coroner.
The original regulation mandating King’s salary had a salary of $25,000 per year and allowed him to collect $250 in fees per autopsy completed. In 2011, the fee portion of his compensation was removed. A separate annual regulation, known as the budget regulation, has increased King’s salary over the years. Under those ordinances, King was paid $50,000.
Autin’s new regulation officially set the Lafourche Parish Coroner’s salary at $50,000 and reinstated the fee per autopsy at $300.
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The ordinance narrowly passed by just five votes. Council members Jerry Jones and William Adams both voted against the motion. Council members Aaron Melvin and James Wendell abstained.
“I just don’t get it, you’re already getting paid to do a job. I understand you have fees to pay someone to come to do it or you need supplies for it but you are already being paid to do a job so why do we have to pay you extra to do your work do it,” Adams said. “$50,000, I can give him a salary, now I’ll give him a salary and he can make as much money as he wants?”
The story goes on
The Louisiana State Police are investigating both King and the Lafourche local government for at least $75,000 that King may not have received from charges. State law states that coroners may charge no less than $250 and no more than $300 for autopsies, at the discretion of the local government.
The $75,000 came to light when King sent a bill last October increasing his rates to $500 per autopsy. King had been sending out bills for autopsies performed and paid for since 2011, since the regulation was changed to remove the fee portion of his compensation. Every time he sent a bill, he collected payments and increased his rates several times until October, when the municipality took notice.
In an interview with the Houma Courier/Daily Comet on Dec. 29, King said he was never informed of the regulation change. According to King, the money budgeted for per-autopsy payments goes to whoever does the work, and he has never gone over budget. He admitted that in one year he received $35,000 in fees on top of his salary.
The state police are nearing the conclusion of their investigation and will submit their findings to the Lafourche District Attorney’s office for review to decide whether to pursue charges, said Ross Brennan, public information officer for the Louisiana state police.
“I spoke to the lieutenant in charge of the investigation today (because) I wanted to find out if it was indeed true (because) I wanted to make sure for myself and yes there is a criminal investigation going on so like I said I’m doing it I don’t want to touch any of it,” Adams said.
Pending the indictment, Brennan said the state police investigation would not be considered a criminal offense.
According to Autin, he consulted with prosecutors, the court clerk, the local council and the king’s attorney, William “Chuck” Credo III, in preparing the ordinance.
Autin said his concern was that without a clear path forward, the bodies could pile up while administration and the coroner’s office argued over how the office would be compensated.
This article originally appeared on the Daily Comet: Amid a looming investigation, local council increases coroner’s salary