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Myriad problems cited in Opelousas City audit

Auditors for the City of Opelousas have found a lot of problems in the past fiscal year’s operations, including two issues that have been turned over to the District Attorney for investigation.

The audit also found that, during the past fiscal year, the city spent nearly $4 million more than it took in, requiring a dip into the fund balance.

Both of the issues cited in the audit that has been turned over to the DA involved travel for former Mayor Reggie Tatum’s travel.

One was for Tatum and an employee to attend a 2018 conference in Canada. In that case, no documentation was made to prove the trip was for city business. Also that year, the city reimbursed Tatum for travel costs in excess of what he actually spent. Tatum went to the Main Street Conference in Kansas City, but Tatum used some airline credits to pay for part of the flight. The city paid him for the entire cost of the flight, instead of what he actually spent, the auditors found.

The problems, cited in the audit recently produced by the city’s CPAs, all occurred under Tatum’s watch. Tatum lost his bid for re-election last fall after his 2017 indictment on 15 counts including malfeasance, injuring public records, forgery and theft.

The charges stem from Tatum’s filing for overtime for his self-appointed role as manager of a shelter he opened in Opelousas following the floods of August 2016. KATC Investigates uncovered Tatum’s time sheets via public records requests and found that time sheets were also filed on behalf of council members, some of whom denied any knowledge of the matter.

The recently-released audit includes 16 pages of “findings,” which generally are problems with the way finances were handled. The findings start with the city’s failure to implement internal controls and policies dealing with financial statements. Current management of the city has turned over those duties to a CPA, to ensure the city’s financial documents are properly done.

Current Opelousas Mayor, Julius Alsandor says when findings like this come down to dollars and cents, there have to be cuts. Alsandor said he is hopeful that the cuts will not affect any city employees.

“As we look at it right now, that is a very last resort that will be taken. Everyone needs their job and as a leader and the mayor of this city, I will do everything in my power, and the department heads will do everything in their power to make sure that we can cut back on our spending, still providing the services and not impacting somebodies livelihood,” Alsandor said.

Alsandor also added that there was a lack of transparency with the mayor and previous council, and he will do his best to be transparent with all department heads, council members, and the public.

Other issues include the following; in each case, the new administration pledged to follow the rules going forward:

  • 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.

 

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