By Betsy Swenson
Tammany West news
MANDEVILLE–In a 38-0 vote, the Louisiana State Senate approved legislation handing over fiscal control of the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office and its operations to the Parish Council. The bill now awaits Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature before it becomes law.
Authored by Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), House Bill 561 allows the council to set the coroner’s salary and that of his employees, in addition to the council overseeing fiscal operations in the coroner’s office. Burns says the bill is in direct response to pending investigations regarding questionable spending by St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan and that of his employees.
In response to the Senate’s approval of HB 561, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister said, “We are one important step closer to bringing back the financial oversight of the coroner’s office to the Parish Council and parish government.
I have consistently said that there is no place for a public servant that goes down the road of abuse and squander. For this reason, among others, this bill was essential.”
Both state and federal authorities are currently investigating Galvan following reports of extravagant spending and excessively high salaries in his office. Galvan has large control over his office’s $5 million budget with little oversight, thanks to a 2007 law that also allows him to set his own salary. Galvan currently makes $200,000 per year, while many of his employees are making over $100,000. The Orleans Parish coroner makes an annual salary of about $100,000.
After the bill is signed by the governor, the new law will return check and balances of the coroner’s budget to the Parish Council with their supervision and approval. Additionally, the parish’s financial department will once again handle financial oversight.
“We are disappointed and saddened this step is necessary, but the citizens of St. Tammany Parish have the right to expect transparency and accountability from their elected officials. We feel it was our responsibility to take this important and necessary step,” said Brister. “We are grateful for the bill that Rep. Tim Burns sponsored to return oversight to the parish.”
Throughout all news reports, Galvan consistently refuses to speak publicly about any charges, noting the information is in connection with a pending lawsuit.