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'This makes the state look bad;' Lawmakers grill Civil Service about pay raises exposed by WBRZ

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BATON ROUGE- The Senate Finance Committee grilled leaders of State Civil Service Monday asking pointed questions about large pay raises they received.

Stream WBRZ newscasts here

The WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered Director Byron Decoteau received a $20,000 raise last year. His two underlings also received large pay increases over a short window of time. Deputy Director Chris Deer received nine pay increases in four years elevating his salary from about $100,000 to $140,000 during that time frame. Chief Operating Officer Nicole Tucker received 11 pay increases in three years, elevating her salary from around $62,000 to $124,000.

"Let me tell you something, it makes all the legislators look bad," State Senator Gregory Tarver said. "It makes the whole state look bad."

When WBRZ asked Decoteau about the raises, he said there was no money for anyone else.

"I've had conversations with the governor and his people," Senator Jimmy Harris said. "They did not know about the raises, and in my humble opinion, it's run like a boys club. We pay whoever we want to pay whatever we want to pay them."

This month, the Capital Area Human Services District asked the Civil Service Commission for pay raises for two nurses who were planning to leave the agency due to a job offer paying more.

"I was just back in February in a press conference with Chief Paul and the coroner," Dr. Laughinghouse said to Civil Service commissioners a few weeks ago. "We are on track to have 350 opioid overdose deaths this year. I would hate to explain to the citizens that we have to close this facility because we can't pay nurses to stay."

Dr. Jan Laughinghouse, Director of CAHSD, said the money was critical to make sure they did not lose the nurses.

However, when it came time to vote, the commission voted unanimously no.

One of the commissioners gave her the following reasons.

"I'm from north Louisiana, and we don't like to open the barn door and let the horses out," one commissioner told Dr. Laughinghouse. "I feel your pain, but I'm voting no. I can't open this barn door."

Now, the public has seen Civil Service had no trouble opening the barn door for a chosen few at its agency.

"The last person I talked to before I walked out of my office was Jay Dardenne," Senator Bodi White told Decoteau. "He did not know about these pay increases and y'all are up under the Division."

Decoteau responded: "We do not report to the Division." 

"I know but you are under their umbrella. He did not know about them or approve them," White countered.  

As the fallout grew from WBRZ's story, Civil Service said any state worker can get raises as applicable.

The Legislative Auditor was in the room during the discussion Monday. Sources tell WBRZ, auditors plan on launching an inquiry into the Civil Service raises. 

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