Opelousas City Audit Uncovers Multiple Problems
I don't know of any office or business setting where anyone is overjoyed to hear the words, "the auditors are coming". Let's just say they are a necessary "evil" especially in government. Auditors commissioned to look into the dealings of the city of Opelousas have certainly uncovered a lot of missteps. I don't mean that in a malicious way. I am simply stating there were problems, a lot of problems, discovered by the audit.
Among the issues were a couple of travel related items that auditors suggested be sent to the District Attorney's office for review. Those items had to do with travel-related expenses of former Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum.
One of the issues had to do with a trip Tatum took to Canada for a 2018 conference. Auditors could not find documentation that the trip was official city business. Another issue with former Mayor Tatum had to do with his reimbursement for travel funds that exceeded the amount of money that was actually spent. It seems the Mayor paid for part of his airline ticket using airline miles but was reimbursed in cash for the full amount of the ticket.
The audit reportedly offered 16 pages of findings that seem to indicate issues with the way finances were reported and paid. The audit also cited a lack of internal controls and policies in regards to the way finances are handled by the city.
- Violations of city policies and procedures allowed some city utility customers – including employees – to let their utility bills go unpaid well past the 60-day cutoff policy.
- The Police department, under a previous police chief who also was not re-elected, violated city purchasing procedures by making repeated purchases, several days in a row, that were obvious attempts to bypass the city’s rule that any purchase over $300 had to be done with a purchase order.
- The city doesn’t have proper policies and procedures involving the approval of invoices; several were paid without proper review and approval.
- City employees aren’t using the time clock, and some were submitting paper time sheets that didn’t agree with the time clock report generated for that time period.
- During 2018, the lifeguards at the city’s North Park pool turned in time sheets and were paid for hours in excess of the hours the pool was open. In addition, the city paid an average of 15 lifeguards per day, when there was only a need for two to three lifeguards on duty at any given time. This could be a violation of state law, auditors said.
- During 2018, the police department bought and handed out badges to people who aren’t police officers. We reported on this finding last week. Here’s the story.
- During 2018, the city paid several invoices after the due date, triggering a late fee.
- Starting in 2016, the city did not properly monitor and inventory capital assets as required by state law.
- The city hasn’t reported unclaimed property – like utility deposits that haven’t been refunded to customers – as is required by state law. When the city doesn’t report that property and transfer it to the state treasury, that could be a violation of state law.
- The city failed to set the salaries of the city clerk, police chief, and fire chief as is required by state law. Failing to do so means the city could be in violation of state law.
- Beginning in 2016, the city failed to follow public bid law. The city made recurring purchases from a certain vendor for fuel and oil in excess of $30,000. The city couldn’t provide any documentation that these purchases were ever put to public bid, as state law requires. Failure to do so places the city in violation fo state law.
- Beginning in 2015, the police department records division quit sending quarterly audits of traffic citations to the city clerk, as is required by state law. The law is in place to ensure that tickets are improperly disposed of, the audit states.
- Starting in 2018, the city paid conference-related costs for the city attorney. The city can’t do that, because it constitutes a donation, auditors said.
- Starting in 2018, the city failed to publish minutes of its public meetings within the time required by state law. Auditors also couldn’t even find minutes for meetings after November 2018.
- Starting in 2018, the city failed to advertise its original and amended budget as required by state law. The city also did not follow state law requiring public participation; state law requires a 30-day review period of a final budget before it is adopted, but the city adopted its budget only six days after it was introduced, the audit states. The city also never published notice of its statute-required public budget hearing.
- The city paid monthly retainer fees to a computer consultant and a lobbying firm during the fiscal year that ended on August 1. Invoices weren’t provided as required by law, and there wasn’t even a contract that specified hourly rates or documentation of services, the auditors wrote.
- Tickets weren’t forwarded to the district attorney’s office as is required by state law, and “improper disposal of traffic citations is a violation of state law,” the auditors wrote.
- In 2018, the city paid for an electronic football scoreboard for the recreation department. The city wasn’t able to provide any documentation proving that public bid law was followed in that purchase, meaning the city violated the public bid law in the purchase.
Current Opelousas Mayor Julius Alsandor says his office is taking the findings of the auditors very seriously. He plans to work with the Opelousas City Council to correct the issues brought forth by the auditors. Many of those corrections and adjustments have already been put in place by the Mayor and his administration.