Lee Zurik Investigation: Citizens group says coroner must go

A St. Tammany government watchdog group says the parish coroner must go.

The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany want the parish president and council to call for Coroner Peter Galvan to resign.  That call comes after our investigative reports questioned his salary and his spending.  But two parish council members say it is too early to call for Peter Galvan's resignation.

When we asked Parish Councilman Jacob Groby if he feels Galvan should resign from office, he told us, "That's a question for the coroner.  Personally, if he is guilty of what he's being accused here, then yes, without a doubt, he should resign for misuse of public funds – if he is found guilty of it."

"That's a decision for the coroner, as a duly-elected official by the people – the people voted him in,"  said Council Chairman Jerry Binder.

The council wants to wait until the legislative auditor completes an investigation.  Last week, the council asked the auditor to look into the coroner's office after we showed questionable spending, which included the coroner paying himself $230,000 last year.  That raise made him the highest-paid elected official in the state.

"If they are true, is a resignation warranted?  Absolutely," Binder said.

The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany sent a two-page letter to parish leaders late Tuesday night, asking them to request Galvan's resignation.

But, they write, "If you decline taking the lead in a call for his resignation, it will be up to the citizens to see to it that he does not stay on for another three years by either compelling his resignation or by a recall election."

Parish President Pat Brister left town Wednesday and was unavailable for an on-camera interview.  In a written statement, she says, "We all have our own personal feeling about the allegations, but the people of St. Tammany Parish elected the coroner, not the administration or council. We eagerly await the findings of the legislative auditor's inquest so that we as elected officials and the citizens of St. Tammany can decide what happens next."

The council also wants to wait for the auditor but they say, if the auditor concurs with our facts, resigning may be the least of Galvan's problems.

Groby told us, "On the face value of what's been reported, it's pretty obvious to me that this will lead to some sort of prosecutorial event.  I don't know what charges, but that's for the legislative auditor to determine."

And Binder said, "If it is abuse of power and fraud... we're looking for potential malfeasance in office or potential indictments. That trumps a resignation.  That can come.  But we want the Coroner's Office cooperating with the state legislative auditor, so we can get the truth."