Sorrento council approves back pay for police chief in deal for her departure

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SORRENTO, Louisiana — The Sorrento Town Council has voted to pay Police Chief Fern Barnett $16,825 in back pay for work performed since the fall as part of a lawsuit settlement in which she's agreed to step down on March 21.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1LccdIw ) the council voted Tuesday to amend the town's budget to appropriate the money to pay Barnett, a 71-year-old great-grandmother. She won election as chief by default in October after two other contenders dropped out of the Nov. 4 race.

Barnett had filed a lawsuit against the town for failing to pay her $2,800 monthly salary plus health benefits she says she is owed since being sworn in as police chief Oct. 21.

As part of an agreement arranged during an executive session at last month's Town Council meeting, Barnett agreed to resign effective March 21 and dismiss any litigation against the town as long as she receives her back pay from the town.

After a public hearing Tuesday on the budget amendment ordinance at which no one from the public spoke, the Town Council voted 3-2 to appropriate money for Barnett's salary and benefits by moving $16,825 from the town budget's reserve fund to the public safety fund.

Council members Don Schexnaydre and Patti Poche, vocal opponents of Barnett, voted against amending the budget Tuesday.

At the last Town Council meeting, the two council members also opposed paying Barnett back pay in exchange for her resignation. Schexnaydre claimed the town shouldn't put any more money in a defunct department with just one officer.

The Town Council never appropriated money in this year's fiscal budget to cover Police Department operational expenses or salaries because town officials have openly denied funding the department after years of dealing with lawsuits and embarrassing behavior from its officers.

One year ago, former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. resigned after lying to FBI officers about his involvement in a sex scandal with an inebriated woman.

The Police Department also has been without liability insurance since November 2013 when its insurance provider opted not to continue providing coverage.

The Town Council instead has appropriated over $353,000 in the budget to pay the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office for police protection.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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