Lee Zurik Investigation: Lawmaker's bill could hit Galvan where it hurts

Dr. Peter Galvan, embattled coroner of St. Tammany Parish
Dr. Peter Galvan, embattled coroner of St. Tammany Parish

A North Shore state representative thinks the St. Tammany Parish Coroner's salary could be reduced by the end of this year.

Representative Tim Burns filed a bill Friday that he says will put an end to the abuses in the Coroner's Office. It will be heard in next month's legislative session

Burns thinks his bill will breeze through the legislature. And when it becomes law, it will put Dr. Peter Galvan's salary in the control of the St. Tammany Parish Council.

A vague 2007 bill by A.G. Crowe gave Galvan control of all salaries in his office. It's unclear if that allowed Galvan to set his own salary though -- the attorney general hasn't given an opinion on that.

Still, Burns thinks Galvan's salary will be reduced soon, even if the state constitution clearly states the salary of a coroner should not be reduced during his term in office. Galvan has about three years left as coroner.

"We think that he never really had the authority," said Burns. "He may have exceeded his legislative authority in setting the salary."

Burns' bill will also give the council control of all other salaries in the office. As we reported in February, salaries in Galvan's office have skyrocketed, going from $212,000 a year when he was first elected in 2000 to $1.5 million in 2012. Six employees were paid six-figure salaries.

The bill gives control and oversight of all fiscal operations in the office to the Parish Council.

"I think it will put a brakes on what's going down, what's going on in the office," said Burns. "That's our hopes with this legislation."

But Burns says his bill is not the only coroner-related document he's planning to sign. As you may recall from our earlier reporting, a coalition of "Concerned Citizens" groups in St. Tammany is launching a recall effort on Galvan.

Burns says, since Galvan won't leave office on his own, he will support citizens who will now try to remove him, including adding his signature to recall petitions.

Burns told us, "There was serious malfeasance in office that goes sort of beyond something that might be unpopular, it goes beyond a vote that I might disagree with with one of my colleagues. But just some serious improprieties, I think. No other way around it. I don't want to get ahead of the criminal investigation, but I've seen enough."