Embattled St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan has lost his financial authority.
A new bill signed into law Tuesday morning by Governor Bobby Jindal requires Galvan to turn over the purse strings to the St. Tammany Parish Council. That means Galvan no longer has control of salaries, purchases, or the $6.5 million surplus his office is sitting on.
"Yes, I think it was an embarrassment to the parish, to all elected officials. Hopefully this will restore that office by putting it under the councIl," says the bill's author, Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville.)
In 2004, St. Tammany voters allowed the coroner to collect a special property tax to fund a new crime lab, but Burns now says that was a mistake: "It gave too much power to the Coroner's Office. Given the circumstances there, we needed the powers taken back and given to the parish government."
Galvan has not been convicted of any wrongdoing, but he is under investigation by the FBI and the state's legislative auditor for how he spent taxpayer money.
Burns' bill, HB 561, passed the state legislature unanimously. "Most people's mouths dropped. It was just so egregious, so blatant," says Burns.
Meantime, the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany says the month-long effort to recall Galvan is on a successful track.
Concerned Citizens needs just over 53,000 petition signatures by November to remove Galvan from office. President Rick Franzo says his group now has more than 10,000.
"If I can stay on a path of 10,000 a month and the last two months have a big push, we can easily make those numbers," Franzo says.
Removing Galvan from office would send a message to all elected officials that they will be held accountable, according to Franzo: "People are struggling with taxes rising, insurance rising, people are losing work. When you see that type of abuse, it's insulting."