Archive for the ‘Jonesboro’ Category

Jonesboro Bookkeeping Amiss, Once Again

03/27/2017

A just-released audit of the Town of Jonesboro’s finances reveal that sloppy bookkeeping has once again become a problem. Several years ago, the condition became so severe that auditors were unable to give an opinion on the town’s finances.

Among the issues cited:

Improper Treatment of Town Vehicles

This finding was first reported in 2012. While efforts were made to improve procedures, activity logs were not maintained for all Town vehicles as required by the Town’s Ordinance.

Police Tickets Not Adequately Tracked

This finding was first reported in 2015. In 2015, we reported that records for police tickets did not provide a sufficient audit trail to ensure that all ticket numbers are accounted for and receipts for fines are deposited and properly posted.

Cash Receipt Books Not Properly Maintained

This finding was first reported in 2015. In 2015, pre-numbered cash receipts were not used in order. During the year ended June 30, 2016, new ticket books were purchased and clerks were instructed to use them in order. We were better able to perform a test to account for receipt numbers. However, we noted eight receipt numbers that we could not account for. We selected twenty-five receipt numbers and attempted to trace them to deposits. We were only able to trace nine out of twenty-five receipts to deposits posted in the accounting system. We were unable to complete the test because the deposit summary does not list individual receipts. The deposit summary lists totals for each type of collection such as fines.

Noncompliance with Public Bid Law

This finding was first reported in 2015. During our fiscal year 2015 test of disbursements, we noted one disbursement out of twenty-five disbursements that appeared to have required compliance with the Public Bid Law. The disbursement was for fuel. We noted no bids obtained. The Town spent over $50,000 for fuel during the fiscal year. No bid was obtained for fiscal year 2016 purchases either.

During 2016, the Town purchased a pickup truck for $38,858 for the fire department. The board minutes of August 11, 2015 indicated approval to cash a certificate of deposit to purchase a vehicle to pull fire equipment. The bid specification included “Ford F-250 Super Duty, 2015 SRW 4×4 crew cab XL 156″ WB style side, 6.7L Power Stroke V8 Diesel 6-speed Auto Trans., Exterior shall be Silver Metallic, Interior shall be Cloth” and other detailed specifications. It did not include a statement such as “specifications are used only to denote the quality standard of product desired and that they do not restrict bidders to the specific brand, make, manufacturer, or specification named.” Also, there was no entry in the minutes that indicated that there was only one bid received, the details of the bid, or that the bid was accepted.

The payment of overtime appears to be excessive.

During fiscal year 2016, the Town paid employees for overtime hours a total of $151,838 versus $109,059 in fiscal year 2015. The following is a summary by department of those costs:

Due to the significant amount of overtime pay, we analyzed the cost by employee. Some employees received nearly as much in overtime pay as they did in regular pay. For example, one water department employee received $27,715 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $25,805 in overtime pay. One administrative employee received $39,236 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $13,263 in overtime pay. One street department employee received $30,191 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $10,942 in overtime pay.

Failure to Publish Minutes

The Town did not publish board minutes in the official journal for a period of several months. The June 2015 minutes were published July 23, 2015. We noted no other minutes published from July 23, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

See here the complete report for fiscal year 7/1/15-6/30/16.

Roller Sentenced to Jail, Must pay Restitution

02/27/2017

Former Jackson Parish Ward Four Fire Protection District Chief Curtis Roller was two weeks ago sentenced to a two year jail sentence, and will have to make restitution of over $400 thousand, according to a press release from the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport. Roller had pled guilty last May.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 17, 2017

Jonesboro man sentenced to 24 months in prison for FEMA fraud

SHREVEPORT, La. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced that a Jonesboro man was sentenced Monday to 24 months in prison for obtaining FEMA grants for a fire department so that he could then sell his company’s products to it.

Curtis Roller, 60, of Jonesboro, La., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. on one count of wire fraud after illegally obtaining Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants and making false statements on worker compensation forms. He also was sentenced to three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $403,355 restitution. According the guilty plea, Roller submitted false information on a grant application on May 9, 2009 to FEMA so that the Jackson Parish Ward 3 Fire Protection District was eligible to receive federal funds, which could be used to purchase equipment from his company, Louisiana Firefighting Services. It is against FEMA rules and policies for a grant writer to financially benefit from money awarded.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Postal Service-Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl M. Campbell prosecuted the case.

Here are some pertinent documents:

Judgement

Plea Agreement – May, 2016

Court Minutes – Sentencing

Agreed Upon Factual Basis

Roller was originally indicted in 2010, and then in 2013, a superseding indictment was returned.

Grand Jury Indictment

Representing Roller were Shreveport attorneys Ansel Stroud III, and Nicole Buckle. He is required to report on 3/28/17.

AG Opines no Dual Office Holding Violation in Jackson Parish Tax Office

02/14/2017

A year after an advisory opinion was requested from Louisiana’s Attorney General, Assistant AG Madeline Carbonette wrote that Town of Jonesboro Alderwoman Nia Evans could also serve as Jackson Parish Tax Commission Administrator without violating the state’s Dual Officeholder Law.

Wrote Carbonette:

La. R.S. 42:63(D) does not prohibit holding an elected office in a political subdivision and full time employment in a separate political subdivision. Because Jonesboro and the Agency are separate political subdivisions, a member of the Board is not prohibited from serving as the Administrator of the Agency.

Jonesboro Mayor James Bradford had requested the opinion.

See here the complete document.

Another North Louisiana Mayor in Trouble

06/09/2016

St. Joseph mayor target of criminal investigation

Katie Moore, WWL-TV

ST JOSEPH, La.– Mayor Ed Brown of St. Joseph, La. is the target of a criminal investigation by Louisiana State Police after a legislative audit earlier this year accused him of mismanaging the town’s finances and outlined several possible crimes Brown may have committed.

Wednesday a spokesman for Louisiana State Police confirmed that detectives had converged on the Town Hall in the small Northeast Louisiana town Tuesday to begin their investigation in earnest.

Witnesses said investigators seized documents as part of the criminal probe, but Brown has not been arrested.

Jackson Parish Tax Admin Raise Plan Tabled

04/13/2016

A plan for for a multi-year salary schedule with yearly incremental raises was tabled at yesterday’s meeting of the Jackson Parish Sales and Use Tax Commission, after board member Todd Culpepper suggested that performance evaluations needed to be a part of any pay raise plan. Culpepper is the Jackson Parish Police Jury (JPPJ) President, and the jury’s representative on the five-member commission.

Culpepper’s motion to table the issue until May was seconded by Jackson Parish School Board (JPSB) Business Manager James Odom. He is one of two school board representatives on the body.

During the discussion, Culpepper explained his action: “I have spoken with an expert personnel attorney to look at something to be fair. I think that what I would like to see happen, is for the protection of this office, for the protection of the administrator, over the years, for whatever reason, we did not give the courtesy to (former administrator) Debra (Jackson) for evaluation at the end of the year.” He added, “I think this board can take away some of the questions by at the end to the year us sitting down with Miss Nia (Edwards) and Maria (Bryant), going over things and doing what’s fair.”

Edwards was hired in January to replace Jackson. Bryant was hired in March.

The tabled salary schedule would have been effective July 1, with the administrator’s initial base salary of $43 thousand/year increased by $500 every year. The assistant administrator’s initial base salary of $27 thousand/year had a $300 yearly increase.

See here the document.

Commission Chair James Bradford appointed a three person committee to come back with another proposal in May, consisting of himself, Culpepper, and Edwards.

“Flood Food Stamp” Applications @ Fannin’s Jonesboro Office

03/30/2016

Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP) applications were being taken adjacent to Louisiana State Senator (District 35) Jim Fannin’s Office in Jonesboro today, sources told Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).

Reportedly, a Louisiana State Police Trooper and Louisiana National Guardsmen were on hand to provide security. The parking area in front of Fannin’s District Office at 320 6th Street was blocked off with traffic cones.

We found this information on Fifth District Congressman Ralph Abraham’s website:

The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP) provides food assistance to eligible households who do not receive regular SNAP benefits and who need help buying groceries due to lost income or damages following a disaster. Residents in following zip codes within the 5th district must apply this week for DSNAP at designated sites in each parish. If you live in a declared parish but did not register during your parish’s registration week, you may still pre-apply online but will need to wait for a site to open again in your parish.

Each site will serve DSNAP applicants this week on a staggered schedule, according to the first letter of their last name. Find the schedule, location information and more at http://www.dcfs.la.gov. Regular SNAP recipients do not need to apply for DSNAP and should not go to a DSNAP site.

Residents who live in the following ZIP codes, and who do not currently receive SNAP benefits, may be eligible for DSNAP:

Jackson Parish: ZIP codes 71226, 71251, 71268, 71270
Rapides Parish: ZIP codes 71301, 71302, 71303, 71360

Schedule and Locations

To minimize wait times, applicants and anyone who pre-registered for benefits should go to a DSNAP location only on one of the days indicated by the first letter of their last name. Applicants who are unable to visit a site on their designated day should go on one of the final days specified.

Wednesday, March 30 – A-F
Thursday, March 31 – G-N
Friday, April 1 – O-Z
Saturday, April 2 – A-K (applicants unable to make prior scheduled day)
Sunday, April 3 – L-Z (applicants unable to make prior scheduled day)

The following DSNAP locations will be open Wednesday, March 30, through Sunday, April 3, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Jackson Parish: Jackson Parish Police Jury Fain Building, 320 6th St., Jonesboro, LA 71251

Rapides Parish: Alexandria Mega Shelter, 8125 Hwy 71 South, Alexandria, LA 71302

Eligibility and Pre-Registration

DSNAP applicants MUST go to a specified DSNAP site to apply and receive benefits, if eligible. Applicants may name an Authorized Representative to go to a DSNAP site on their behalf. Authorized representatives must bring with them to the DSNAP site a picture ID and the picture ID of the applicant/head of household along with a signed statement from the applicant/head of household or an adult household member authorizing them as a representative. Accommodations will be made for the elderly and those with disabilities to reduce on-site wait times.

Regular SNAP households DO NOT need to apply for DSNAP. The program is only for residents who are not currently on the SNAP program.

To help expedite the application process, DCFS is encouraging residents in all affected areas to pre-register for DSNAP benefits. The best way to do this is online at http://www.dcfs.la.gov/dsnap. However, residents can also pre-register by phone at 1-888-LAHELP-U (1-888-524-3578) daily between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Callers will select the appropriate language and then select options 3 and 3. Residents who are already pre-registered do not have to pre-register again, but they should update their information if it is not current. All pre-registrants will have to provide the following information:

Name, Social Security Number, and Date of Birth for each household member
Current address and parish of household
Monthly income for each household member
All liquid assets for each household member (cash on hand, checking, savings)
The information will be kept securely on file and will be confidential.

Pre-registration does not guarantee benefits, but is designed to save time, minimize long waits, and prevent applicants from coming to the site only to find out that they do not have the right information needed to apply.

It should be noted that NO Lincoln Parish residents are illegible for the DSNAP benefits – only those Jackson Parish residents that have a Ruston zip code (71270) can apply.

4-3 Vote to Adopt New Jackson Parish School Zones

03/18/2016

The Jackson Parish School Board (JPSB) last night voted 4-3 at a special called meeting to adopt new school zones for the district beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. The result will be to shift about 375 students among the district’s five schools – Quitman, Weston, Jonesboro-Hodge High School, Southside Elementary, and Jonesboro Middle School.

Voting yes were:

Mary Saulters – District 1
Calvin Waggoner – District 2
Melissa Perry – District 3
Dennis Clary – District 7

Voting no were:

Gerry Mims – District 4
Gloria Davis – District 5
Wade McBride – District 6

Clary made the motion to adopt the plan, with Saulters seconding. There was no discussion among the board members prior to the vote.

See here a map of the new school zones.

The vote followed 2 1/2 hours of public comment from at least thirty area citizens, who, to a person, were opposed to the plan. Several hundred people filled the J-HHS auditorium to near capacity.

Fielding questions from the crowd was contract board attorney Robert Hammonds, who negotiated the plan with the plaintiff, the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ). On hand with Hammonds was Mike Hefner of Geographic Planning & Demographic Services, who compiled the data and mapping.

Hammonds reviewed the data that led to the new zones, saying that the racial imbalance at all the schools were outside the guidelines deemed acceptable to the DOJ. Hammonds said that if the board did not accept the plan as proposed, likely Judge Robert James would impose a plan with more drastic changes.

Hammond added that if the proposed plan were adopted, the district could move in December, 2017 to have the 51 year-old lawsuit dismissed. A dismissal would allow the district to get out from under federal control, Hammonds said.

See here the summary memo.

Many of the comments were unhappy that the plan was a surprise, and no opportunity for citizen input was given.

Typical of the comments:

Ricky McBride, “We should be able to go to our schools, and our board members come and present this information to us in smaller groups where we can understand it. We had no idea, other than the fact that y’all were fixing to take kids out of every school district and move them, we had no idea what’s going on. And that’s not fair and that’s not right.”

Shoentae Mims, “These are our children, they’re not numbers. School board members, my suggestion to you is that you table this vote tonight until you get some feedback from all your constituents in your districts, because this is not right. We weren’t informed. Give us a chance to come up with a better solution.”

Former State Senator Rick Gallot, “The people who you represent – those who have elected you – feel like they’ve not had sufficient time to absorb what it is that you all are having to decide on. I would suggest to you having been in a similar situation that you sit in right now, that these folks would like to have a little more time to interact with you, so that they can talk about their special needs children, or about their children who are in art, or how it may impact them based upon where they live.”

One citizen said that that he had heard that board members were told by Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes, who was overseeing the negotiations, that the matter was not to be discussed with anyone outside of the mediation sessions.

District 3’s Melissa Perry confirmed to Lincoln Parish News Online that was indeed the case.

Said Perry, “This was not to be briefed until there was a plan in Bob’s (Hammond) hand that he could show to the public. It was not to be talked, at all.”

See here Hayes’ order for a settlement conference.

A few of the speaker suggested that consolidation of the district into a single school could be a solution.

New Jackson Parish School Zones Proposed

03/15/2016

New school attendance zones will be proposed for the Jackson Parish School District (JPSB) at a 6:00 PM, Thursday, March 17, public meeting in the Jonesboro-Hodge High School (JHHS) Auditorium, 225 Pershing Hwy. The meeting will also serve as a meeting of the school board.

Among the changes from the present school attendance zones:

(A) The attendance zone for Quitman High School would be expanded toward Jonesboro- Hodge to pick up some students living north and east of the railroad track in Hodge and north of La. Hwy 813. Quitman High School would remain a PK-12 school at its current site.

(B) The attendance zone for Jonesboro-Hodge High School, Jonesboro-Hodge Junior High School, and Southside Elementary would be expanded toward Quitman to pick up some students living on Merrigan Road and would be expanded to the south and east to pick up some students living south of Walker Road and Blankenship Road. Each of the Jonesboro-Hodge schools would retain their present grade configurations and would be at their current sites.

(C) The attendance zone for Weston High School would be expanded toward Jonesboro- Hodge to pick up some students living east of Moffett Drive and Leon Drive. Weston High School would remain a PK-12 school at its current location.

See here the proposed zone map.
See here the summary memo.

Also notable:

Student Discipline

(1) The proposed consent order calls for the District to contract with the IDRA to provide training for teachers and administrators regarding cultural competency and implicit bias in the discipline process.

(2) In the consent order proposed by the United States, the District would also utilize the IDRA to review the student code of conduct and, if necessary, to recommend to the District revisions of it.

Old Issues Resurface in Jonesboro Audit

03/14/2016

The Town of Jonesboro’s latest audit for the fiscal year ended 6/30/15 reveals that some of the financial and bookkeeping issues that plagued the town several years ago are still not completely resolved.

2015-1 Improper Treatment of Town Vehicles
Condition
This finding was first reported in 2012. Town employees who drive Town vehicles are not maintaining activity logs
as required by the Town’s Ordinance. Logs were available for only two of the Town’s approximately twenty vehicles
that are not public safety vehicles.
Criteria
Town Ordinance Number 574 prohibits personal usage of Town vehicles and requires employees to log mileage for
each vehicle into a daily log book. If the vehicle is used for any personal purpose, the employees are required to notate that and submit that information to the City Clerk within five days of the end of the preceding month.

2015-3 Police Tickets Not Adequately Tracked
Condition
Records for police tickets do not provide a sufficient audit trail to ensure that all ticket numbers are accounted for and receipts for fines are deposited and properly posted.
1. There was no log available to indicate how many ticket books were last purchased and who received each book.
2. The books were not numbered.
3. For many of the used books, the log in the back of the book was not maintained or was not properly maintained.
4. The Town utilizes computer software designed to track citations. We obtained reports from that system that
indicated that several ticket numbers were not posted. It appeared that approximately 102 ticket numbers were
missing from a report run from January 1, 2014 through February 1, 2016.
5. We attempted to trace a sample of tickets per the report to either collection or an issued warrant. Tickets are paid at Town Hall. The clerks write a receipt when tickets are paid. If the payer does not bring a citation, the clerk asks the payer what the charges were and takes payment based on a fines schedule. If the citation is not available, the citation number is not written on the receipt. This condition, and the fact that the receipts were not issued in order, made it very difficult to trace tickets to payment.
6. Using the information available to us, we estimate that there were approximately 210 tickets issued during the
fiscal year. Revenue for the year was $7,730 making the average ticket amount $37. This amount seems low
because fines range from $25 to $314.

2015-4 Cash Receipt Books Not Properly Maintained
Condition
Prenumbered cash receipts were not used in order. We were unable to complete a routine test of cash receipts because
it was nearly impossible to determine how many receipts were issued during the fiscal year. There was no
reconciliation between the receipt books and deposits.
Criteria
Common procedures include:
1. Using a prenumbered receipt book in order.
2. Notating in the books which receipt numbers were included in which deposit.
3. Retaining all copies of any voided receipts.

M2015-1 Purchase Orders Issued After Invoices
Comment
Out of twenty-five disbursements tested, two disbursements did not require a purchase order and eight disbursements were supported by purchase orders that were issued after the invoice date. The purpose of purchase orders is to authorize before an expense is incurred by the Town. The employee tasked with authorizing purchase orders should consider whether each purchase is allowable, necessary and reasonable, and included in the budget.
Recommendation
We recommend that employees be educated as to the objectives and purposes of purchasing procedures. A supervisor should periodically review purchases to ensure that procedures are being followed.

See here the complete audit.

Former Tax Administrator Questioned School Board’s Commission Appointments

03/03/2016

A former administrator of the Jackson Parish Sales & Use Tax Commission questioned the legality of two board member’s service that were appointed by the Jackson Parish School Board (JPSB), according to documents uncovered by Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).

Last May, then-administrator Debra Jackson wrote the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program asking for an advisory opinion on whether District Superintendent Wayne Alford and JPSB member Dennis Clary could legally serve, since either the appointee or appointee’s family member received compensation that she claimed was dependent upon a commission vote.

See here the request.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics declined to render an opinion on the matter, since it concerned past conduct, they wrote.

See here the letter.
See here Docket 15-496.
See here related correspondence.