Baton Rouge Mayor, Former Aide Indicted
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ The mayor and a former aide were indicted Tuesday on a malfeasance charge stemming from millions of dollars worth of road construction done during a re- election campaign in 1984.
The charges against Mayor Pat Screen and ex-aide, Mary Olive Pierson, were not made public when the indictment was read in court, but reports during the 14-month investigation alleged the road overlay program was politically motivated.
Prosecutors for the state attorney general refused to comment.
The indictment said only that Screen and Pierson ″did intentionally perform their duties ... in an unlawful manner″ in 1984.
Screen, who had been considering a run for secretary of state, said in an interview that he could not understand the charges since he had done what the city attorney said.
″It is very difficult for me to figure how you intentionally perform your duty not in accordance with the law when you ask the parish attorney - our designated legal adviser - what is the proper thing to do before you do it and then take their advice,″ said Screen, who also is president of the parish council.
Pierson has refused comment. Her lawyer, Michelle Fournet, said, ″She’s committed no wrongdoing whatsoever.... We’re very surprised. She’s obviously disappointed but has every reason to feel confident.″
Assistant Attorney General Rene Solomon told Judge L.J. Hymel that no arrest warrants were needed.
The grand jury had been investigating expenditures made as the mayor and Metro Council ran for re-election in 1984.
Because of the expensive projects, the council was forced to shift $12.1 million to cover shortfalls in various accounts and had to borrow $2.5 million to balance the books.
District Attorney Bryan Bush accused Screen of ″obligating millions of dollars of public funds without authorization.″
The city-parish Plan of Government prohibits deficit spending and also requires that funds only be spent after specific appropriations by the council.
Screen has said council members knew and approved of the way he was handling the budget. He also said he followed the advice of the parish attorney in allowing funds to be spent without specific, prior appropriations by the council.
Former Parish Attorney Lynn Williams and his assistant Randal M. Beach, now the mayor’s legislative coordinator, confirmed they gave that advice to Screen.
Bush started the investigation but was removed from the case by District Judge Mike Ponder in 1985. Screen had contended Bush started the inquiry in anger over budget cuts to the district attorney’s office.
The first grand jury to consider the overspending asked the state legislative auditor’s office to check city-parish financial records for 1984.
If convicted, the two could face up to five years in prison.