Lee Zurik Investigation: Coroner likely to keep high salary

Two property sales, a jail and a mayor who won't answer our questions -- those are just some of the topics we have in our reporter's notebook as we've investigate the St. Tammany Parish coroner.

Two pieces of paper, both signed on December 8, 2006, have us wanting to ask the coroner questions.

On December 8, 2006, St. Tammany Parish buys a 40-acre property from Weyerhaeuser Company for $1.4 million.  The property would be transferred to the coroner, who would build his new office building there.

That same day, Weyerhaeuser also sells a property close by, about a half-mile, to Florida Parish Holdings, LLC.  That property was 81 acres in size, but sold for $1 million.

Florida Parish Holdings is half-owned by the St. Tammany Parish coroner, Dr. Peter Galvan.

We asked Weyerhaeuser about the property.  The one Galvan's company bought is double the size, but cost $400,000 less than the coroner property.   Weyerhaeuser says it's because the Coroner's Office property has highway access, while the majority of the larger property is swampland.

We want to ask Galvan why the properties were purchased on the same day, and if he received a discount on the larger property -- or overpaid for the Coroner's Office property.

Dr. Galvan has a $47,000 contract with the City of Slidell.  The contract is with Galvan the doctor, not the coroner.  The money pays for Galvan to treat sick inmates at the Slidell jail.  But records show Galvan never goes to the jail.

We got the jail logs and, according to them, Galvan is sending Mark Lombard to look after the inmates.  Lombard works for Galvan the coroner as his chief death investigator.  He makes $109,000 a year.

Lombard spends time at the Slidell jail.  Once, an inmate had a tooth pulled and the logs say Lombard placed her back on a drug called amoxicillin and would see her the next day.   He told the jail to give a different drug to an inmate with high blood pressure.

By the way, Lombard is not a doctor, he's a paramedic.  The state says, as long as he has oversight from Galvan, there's no wrongdoing.

But did Slidell contract to have a doctor at the jail instead of a paramedic?  Is Lombard doing work at the jail while he's also working for the Coroner's Office, essentially double billing?

Once, when Lombard went out of town, jail logs show the jail was instructed to call the Coroner's Office about a med call.  If the contract and money is going to Galvan the doctor, and not his coroner's office, why are they calling his public office for a medical call?

Galvan personally made $47,000 from Slidell for the jail.  But separately, his public office -- the Coroner's Office -- has been paid $20,000 a year by the City of Slidell.   Records show it's an annual sum.

We wanted to know why Slidell was paying the Coroner's Office $20,000 every year.

We emailed Slidell Mayor Freddie Drennan, but we never got an answer.  Days later we asked the question again.  Drennan opened our email but wouldn't respond.  That raised a red flag with us because Drennan's office was punctual in answering our public records requests, but wouldn't answer this question.

We emailed the Coroner's Office.  They too wouldn't respond to a simple question: Why is the City of Slidell paying the Coroner's Office $20,000 every year?

And finally, the state legislature will consider a bill this coming session that spells out exactly who has control of the St. Tammany coroner's salary.  If they set his salary at a lower rate, they may not be able to reduce what Galvan is getting paid.

The state constitution specifically states that the salary of a coroner should not be reduced during his term in office.  So, unless Galvan voluntarily reduces his salary, it appears he'll be making more than $200,000 a year until his term is up in 2016, making him the highest-paid elected official in the state.