The mayor of Lafourche vetoed an ordinance aimed at increasing the coroner’s salary in a proverbial arm-wrestling contest.
Lafourche Parish Council passed a close vote on March 28 to increase Coroner John King’s salary, by just five votes out of a possible nine. Both King and the Lafourche Township Government are under investigation by the Louisiana State Police for money paid to King that he may not have received. The amount started at $75,000 but fluctuated after the original results.
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 investigation has not escalated to criminal levels, but could still be reached after the results were handed over to the Lafourche District Attorney’s Office for review. Detectives expect to turn over their findings next week, according to Louisiana State Police public information officer Ryan Gossen.
According to local council chairman Armand Autin, the ordinance was intended to clear up confusion within the law and pave the way for future payments. It is not intended to retrospectively affect anything related to payments and therefore not to prejudice the investigation.
Autin said he did this to ensure the coroner’s office would continue. When the administration stopped making payments, the king’s attorney, William “Chuck” Credo, threatened to send all autopsies to the Parish Forensics in Lafayette at a cost of $3,750 per autopsy.
Mayor Archie Chaisson gave three main reasons for vetoing the ordinance: he preferred a salary-based payment method; there are concerns about the guidelines of the state law; and concern about leaking anything until the state police investigation is complete.
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“The regulation was required to correct the coroner’s actual salary. However, as I noted at the meeting, I believe the fee portion of the regulation is unnecessary and opens up the community to additional spending that may not be necessary,” Chaisson said in the veto. “Also, the written regulation allows the coroner to collect multiple fees, not just autopsy fees…which could significantly increase the budget for the coroner’s office.”
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The money in question stems from layers of complicated laws about how coroners are paid in Louisiana. State law creates the position with guidelines on pay, but ultimately allows the governing body of the area, in this case the local council, to determine how the medical examiner is paid within those guidelines.
The original ordinance that dictated how the Lafourche Parish Coroner was paid called for a salary of $25,000 and $250 in fees per autopsy. In 2011, the then-borough council removed the fee portion of the payments and, in a separate ordinance, increased King’s salary to $50,000.
Part of Autin’s regulation, he said, is intended to clear up the confusion between the two regulations, which set different amounts related to King’s salary, and also to reintroduce the portion of the fee as to how it should be paid.
King continued to send out bills, increase its fees and continued to be paid until October of last year. Those payments stopped when Chaisson said his administration noticed King shouldn’t have received any fees at all. The price hikes surged and were paid up to $400, raising questions about a state law capping the amount at $300.
This article originally appeared in The Courier: The mayor of Lafourche Municipality vetoed a decision to increase coroners’ salaries