Stoute's Honor: Councilman Manfre, where were you when your city needed you?
By GEOFFREY STOUTE
It’s unknown what exactly Morgan City Councilman Luke Manfre was doing — other than being out of town — during the hours of 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
However, it’s quite clear what he wasn’t doing.
In what is his civic duty and arguably one of, if not the most important decisions he would have had to vote on as a city councilman — a pay raise for the next mayor and council, who will be elected in the fall of 2012 and will take office the following January — Manfre chose not to show up.
While he did not return a message left on his cellphone on Wednesday to answer why he was not present at the previous night’s meeting, his daughter said Wednesday morning that he was at his cabin in Arkansas.
Yes, you heard that right! While his fellow councilmen were subject to lengthy and sometimes heated public comments — including a resident from his own neighborhood — Manfre was nowhere to be found.
Even worse, Mayor Tim Matte had to break a 2-2 tie by the council regarding a vote on the next council’s pay raise, who along with the next mayor’s raise, is effective no earlier than January 2013, if the city can afford it.
With the change, the mayor’s raise would be increased from $54,000 to $63,000 per year, while the council’s salary, originally scheduled for an increase from $7,200 to $12,000 annually, was amended to $9,000 annually.
For Manfre, while there’s nothing wrong with taking time off, it’s when he chose to do it that matters most.
How can you represent the public and miss such an important vote? It’s likely it wasn’t for illness or tending to a death in the family — both understandable reasons — if he was in a cabin in Arkansas, at least during the morning hours on Wednesday.
Sure, the pay raise won’t benefit Manfre unless he runs again, but Manfre was chosen by the people to hold this office, which means he was chosen to vote on the most important issues. There’s no other way to describe what he did other than to drop the ball.
Although Manfre’s absence is a large part of the issue — by his own fault — it is not the only unsettling thing in this whole pay raise issue.
In November, the ordinance amending the pay raises for the next mayor and council was introduced just three days after the public — despite low voter turnout — overwhelmingly approved a 12-year 0.3 percent sales tax election to bond $4 million for road repairs that desperately need to be completed.
While Matte has denied any link that the tax is related to the pay raise, something just doesn’t seem right there.
The mayor had all of 2011 to bring the pay raise before the council, and he chose to do so at the end of the year?
What’s even more shocking is when Matte was asked why he chose to bring the measure before the council when he did, Matte — who is a great public speaker — could only muster that he didn’t think of it before this time.
While any link between the tax and the raise is hard to prove, it seems too coincidental.
The ironic thing, too, is this mayor and council do deserve this raise. They have put in the effort to protect the city in natural disasters as well as helping to spur economic growth by fostering favorable conditions that allowed for growth and expansion here.
But the way this is all coming across sounds just too good to be true and rightfully so considering a similar situation occurred following the oil bust of the 1980s when the St. Mary Parish School Board passed a half percent, 12-mill property tax to “maintain” the system.
However, immediately after the public approved the proposal, some central office employees received $10,000 raises.
So while the mayor and council were there to give their input, the public hasn’t heard a peep from Manfre.
I think they deserve a response from him as a public servant.
After all, isn’t that what he is paid to be?