Lee Zurik Investigation: Breaking down Slidell's payments to coroner

The City of Slidell regularly sent $20,000 to the St. Tammany Parish coroner -- what was billed an "annual sum."

We asked the mayor of Slidell, Freddie Drennan, why his city was paying the coroner the money.  Last month, he didn't answer that question in two of our email requests.  But his chief administrative officer did send us an account of all payments made to the coroner.  It shows a regular $20,000 payment each year, beginning in the 1990's and continuing through 2011.

On Friday of last week, the city attorney of Slidell sent us a letter that answered our question.

He wrote, "There is no question that for many years the St. Tammany Coroner's Office was both very limited in its staff and facilities.  The city has had three different mayors and several changes in City Council members [Since 1991. [They all] "made the decision to contribute to the Coroner's Office for the coroner's services in support of the citizens on the east side of St.. Tammany Parish and more particularly the City of Slidell."

That raises even more questions for us.   In 2004, St. Tammany Parish voters passed a millage, sending a significant amount of money to the Coroner's Office.  So why did Slidell need to continue paying the coroner?  Why did citizens on the east side of the parish need to send additional support money to the coroner, but citizens on the west side of the parish did not?

Mayors in Covington and Mandeville tell us they didn't pay any annual fee or sum.

Consider these comparisons.  At the end of 2004, Slidell paid Galvan's office $20,000, a fee for coroner's office services in 2005.  In 2005, Galvan gave himself a $15,000 pay raise.

If his office was so tight on money that he needed $20,000 from Slidell, how was he able to give himself a raise?

Here's another comparison -- in 2006, the millage money from that vote started to kick in and Galvan's annual revenue increased to $2.4 million.  Galvan gave himself a $37,000 raise but still took $20,000 from Slidell.  As salaries and budgets in Galvan's office ballooned from 2006 through 2011, Slidell sent him a total of $120,000.

After Galvan starting receiving the millage money, why did Galvan still ask for the additional money from Slidell?  The City of Slidell told us by email they kept paying it because "the coroner requested the contributions following the passage of the millage, which indicated that a need still existed, and the city made the decision to pay same."

Basically, Slidell residents paid for Galvan's coroner services through property taxes and partially paid again, through funding from the city.

The City of Slidell didn't make a payment in 2012 and payments are not budgeted for this year.

The city attorney of Slidell disagreed with our statement that the mayor wouldn't answer our question on the $20,000.  He thought our statement was misleading and portrayed the mayor as evasive and non-cooperative.

We could have done a better job of pointing out that the mayor's chief administrative officer did send us a list of payments made to the coroner.  As we said in our story last week, the City of Slidell had been punctual in answering all of our public records requests.

We emailed the mayor twice to answer that question and the answer wasn't provided either time -- all we received was the payment list from the CAO.

The day after our story aired, the mayor's office did answer our question and through the city attorney has answered everything we've asked since then.