Lee Zurik Investigation: Galvan's salary, wet bar face scrutiny

Published: Feb. 9, 2013 at 12:51 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 21, 2013 at 8:19 PM CDT
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Blueprints for Dr. Peter Galvan's coroner's office show the planned installation of a wet bar
Blueprints for Dr. Peter Galvan's coroner's office show the planned installation of a wet bar

We found Dr. Peter Galvan's car, the one that taxpayers finance.  At 2:00 Friday afternoon, we spotted that public car at Galvan's private medical practice.   As we found in our investigation, Galvan's getting paid as coroner in St. Tammany Parish, but seeing patients much of the workweek at his private practice.

The Parish Council asked the legislative auditor to look into the coroner's office.  FOX 8 News has learned that the auditor has opened an investigation.

When they begin to look at records, they will find questionable spending on alcohol: beer, wine strawberry mojitos and Jim Beam specials.

Kort Hutchison of the Concerned Citizens of Lacombe says putting alcohol on a public credit card does not surprise him.  That is because, according to drawings of Galvan's new coroner complex in Lacombe, the good doctor has a wet bar attached to his office, steps from his desk.

"Why should the taxpayers pay for building and supplying a wet bar?" Hutchison asked.

The auditor will also find questionable charges by Galvan's CFO, Kim Kelly.  She put dozens of grocery trips on her public credit card – once, she even charged taxpayers for Herbal Essence shampoo.

State Representative Tim Burns (R-Mandeville) says he was shocked to learn that Dr. Peter Galvan could raise his own annual salary, jumping in about a decade from $54,000 to $200,000.

"It is abusive that a public servant can raise their salary to that degree," Burns told us.  "It's definitely an unintended loophole in the law that needs to be changed."

The loophole is a 2007 bill that gave the coroner control over all salaries in his office.  Bill sponsor A.G. Crowe says he never intended for Galvan to be able to set his own salary.  He only wanted to give him control of other salaries in his office.  When we asked Crowe if he thinks elected officials should be setting their own salaries, he replied, " No, I do not."

Burns told FOX 8 Thursday that he will sponsor a bill in April's legislative session that tightens the grip on Galvan, "a bill to perhaps make the office more like other coroners' offices, where the salaries are fixed, fixed by someone on the outside."

Galvan's been able to give himself significant raises.  Months after Katrina, for instance, he upped his salary 39 percent.  Galvan now earns more than any other elected official in Louisiana.

Burns said, "I just don't, you know, jump on a bandwagon or jump on a fellow public official just to get notoriety or the headlines.  But there was just something about that, about paying himself nearly $230 thousand, you know, on top of a medical salary.  That was just… sort of shocked the conscience, if you will."