Lee Zurik Investigation: As Galvan pushes for new hire, recall effort picks up

A good government group is trying to stop the St. Tammany Parish coroner from hiring a new employee. The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish sent a six-page letter to the parish president and council, giving reasons why they should block the hiring.

Concerned Citizens is the group trying to get the petition signatures needed to hold a recall election for the parish coroner, Dr. Peter Galvan. With three months to go before a key deadline, the group says it has gotten more than 30 percent of the required signatures.

"The last two weeks has certainly been a tail dive down," says Rick Franzo with the Concerned Citizens. "I think we attribute it to a lot of people, been on vacation, getting ready for school now."

But after a tough summer stretch, the numbers picked up this past week. "It seems like all of a sudden it came back up again," Franzo says.

The group is confident they can close the gap the next three months.

They've started a new effort to get more recall signatures, what they call the "swarm program." Anyone who signs the recall petition at 40 sites sprinkled throughout the parish will be asked to take a recall sheet with them home to get more signatures. So far, it's working.

We're already getting return envelopes," says Kort Hutchison of the Concerned Citizens. "We have a self-addressed stamped envelope which the recall sheet goes in. We're asking people to get their family and close friends to sign it and mail it back to us."

Meantime, the Concerned Citizens have spent the past few weeks gathering information, trying to prevent Galvan from hiring a new executive director.

"We believe that it's time that Peter Galvan earns his pay," says Franzo.

The group talked to coroners in East Baton Rouge Parish, Jefferson Parish, south Florida and New York, and concluded that such a hire would allow Galvan to continue getting paid as coroner, but also continue working at his private medical practice in Slidell.

"When you speak to all of these people, the description of the coroner is 'executive director' or 'CEO,' says Franzo. "Why are we hiring a CEO? All it is going to do is give Galvan a green light to continue his work in Slidell, essentially be an absentee coroner in St. Tammany Parish."

Franzo says there's more proof Galvan doesn't need another employee. In East Baton Rouge Parish, the coroner receives $3.40 per taxpayer; in St. Tammany, it's $23.40.

The Parish Council is also doing research to determine how much this new employee should be paid. They're scheduled to vote on the funding at next week's council meeting.

Franzo insists, "The Parish Council needs right now to draw a line and take control of the money, like they have now, and say, 'No, do your job, Peter Galvan.'"