Will a 45% pay raise attract talent to the St. James Parish Council?

By Sharon Cayette Lavigne, Founder of RISE St. James & 2021 Goldman Prize Recipient North America

At the St. James Parish regular council meeting on Wednesday, January 4, 2023, the St. James Parish Council voted to give themselves a 45.5% pay raise effective January 2024. Councilmembers Mason Bland, Donald Nash, Clyde Cooper, Vondra Etienne-Steib, and Ryan Louque voted FOR the ordinance amending the compensation (Ordinance No. 22-21). Councilman Councilmembers Jason Amato and Alvin St. Pierre voted AGAINST the ordinance, which is thought-provoking.

Surely it has been 25 years since the St. James Parish Council received a pay raise. It has also been over two decades since the St. James Parish Council has truly worked to promote, protect, and preserve the general welfare, safety, and health of the residents of St. James Parish. Of course, it has been quite a while since the St. James Parish Council has genuinely encouraged the spirit of democracy and adhered to its oath of office.

On several occasions such as with the 2014 land use plan, the St. James Parish Council seemed to have taken an oath to protect and support the interest of South Louisiana Methanol, Ergon St. James, Inc., and the likes of Formosa Plastics Corporation, leaving the people to their own devices.

According to St. James Parish Ordinance No. 82-24, the base compensation is $600 per month and does not include insurance, mileage, or other compensation benefits. Ordinance No. 98-1, which was adopted on February 4, 1998, increased the compensation to $1,100 per month. The proposed Ordinance No. 22-21 will increase the compensation by 45% totaling $1,600 per month with an additional $200 for the Council Chairperson.

Based on the CPI Inflation Calculator (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2022) the St. James Parish Council’s monthly compensation should be at least $2,026.50 to achieve the same buying power as the increase 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, St. James Parish is made up of mostly historically disadvantaged communities. Over the last 25 years, the parish has either retrogressed or needs major improvement regarding public health and local government infrastructure, the digital and technology divide, food deserts throughout the parish, walkable sidewalks and levees, solar and renewable energy, ongoing environmental conditions, and overall improved quality of life.

Specifically, the 5th District of St. James Parish, which offers a front-row seat to climate change, urgently needs an evacuation route, access to affordable fresh food & grocery, a multipurpose building, a post office, a Senior Citizens Center, live streaming of public meetings, a playground & community gathering space, extensive street resurfacing, care for existing ditches, grass & landscape maintenance on both sides of the Sunshine Bridge, resurface & repaint Highway 18, lighting along the highways, and more.

As the St. James Parish Council missed out on 45% of its compensation based on the CPI Inflation Rate, there has not been a measurable public benefit for the Council’s service when compared to parishes similar in size and geographic location. Public service can often be a thankless job, but would the voters of St. James Parish give the Parish Council a whopping 45% pay raise if Council was required to appear on the ballot?

The St. John the Baptist Parish Council appears to have the lowest monthly compensation rate of only $600 per month. An adjustment based on the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index could attract council members that truly represent the hard-working members of the community and not the pseudo kind.