Archive for the ‘Jonesboro’ Category

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.

Jackson Parish Tax Commission Settles with Nabors

03/01/2016

The Jackson Parish Sales & Use Tax Commission unanimously approved a settlement with Nabors Industries over disputed sales tax collections at its Noon meeting today in Jonesboro.

According to Administrator Nia Evans, the net of the settlement that will be divided among Jackson Parish governmental agencies is about $1.1 million.

The agency also unanimously approved hiring Maria Bryant as an assistant in the office. Evans said there were about ten applications for the position. She said most of the applicants did not have sufficient accounting or clerical experience for the position, and as Bryant had previously worked for the commission, Evans recommended Bryant’s hiring.

Chairman James Bradford said he had not received a reply to his request for the Attorney General’s opinion regarding whether Edwards’ hiring is a violation of the state’s Dual Officeholding Law.

The agency had no findings in a recently released audit for the year ended 6/30/15.

Members of the commission are James Bradford, Town of Jonesboro, Melissa Perry, Jackson Parish School Board, James Odom, Jackson Parish School Board, Gerald Palmer, Village of Hodge, and Todd Culpepper, Jackson Parish Police Jury. Culpepper was absent from today’s meeting.

Jackson Parish Tax Commission to Request AG Opinion

02/15/2016

The Jackson Parish Sales & Use Tax Commission voted unanimously at Friday’s meeting to request an Attorney General’s Opinion to clarify the new administrator’s status regarding the state’s Dual Officeholder Law and newly hired administrator Nia Evans. The vote came after discussion among the board members about the possibility of reducing her hours from 35 weekly to 34, which, it was said, would make her status “part time.”

Board Chair James Bradford said that according to a couple of opinions from the Louisiana Attorney General, Evans wasn’t in conflict with state law.

Said Bradford, “This job is not considered the same political subdivision. Therefore, there is no dual officeholding.”

The opinions both deal with an employee of the Webster Parish Tax Commission who was exploring a run for Minden City Council. The opinions say that since the duties were in two different political subdivisions, then there was no conflict.

See the opinions here: 05-276; 06-117

However, further research into the law by Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) has turned up this provision, which appears to be applicable here.

LA RS 42:64 – Incompatible offices

A. In addition to the prohibitions otherwise provided in this Part, no other offices or employments shall be held by the same person in combination if any of the following conditions are found to pertain and these prohibitions shall exist whether or not the person affected by the prohibition exercises power in conjunction with other officers:

(6) Funds received by one office or employment are deposited with or turned over to the other office or position.

In Evans’ case, as administrator she collects the sales and use taxes parishwide, then remits to each government entity in the parish (School Board, Police Jury, Town of Jonesboro, etc) its proper proportion of the monthly tax take. Evans is Alderman at Large for Jonesboro.

Louisiana’s Dual Officeholding & Dual Employment law states as its purpose:

LA RS 42:61 Declaration of policy

A. It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public officials and employees perform the public business in a manner which serves to promote and maintain in the general citizenry a high level of confidence and trust in public officials, public employees, and governmental decisions. The attainment of this end is impaired when a public official or employee holds two or more public offices or public jobs which by their particular nature conflict with the duties and interests of each other. The attainment of a high level of confidence and trust by the general citizenry in public officials, employees, and governmental decisions is further impaired by the excessive accumulation of governmental power which may result from public officials or employees holding two or more public offices or public jobs.

B. It is the purpose of this Part to implement a policy which will serve to maintain a high level of trust and confidence by the general citizenry in public officials, employees, and governmental decisions of the government of this state and of its political subdivisions by defining and regulating dual employment and by defining, regulating, and prohibiting dual officeholding.

In other business, the board voted to advertise for an assistant administrator for the office. The notice, along with a job description will be published in the parish’s official journal. Applications for the position will then be reviewed by the board and a decision made.

The board also voted to retain Kenneth D. Folden, & Co CPA to act as bookkeeper for the agency. Folden has fulfilled that role for some time, it was noted.

The next meeting of the commission is 12 Noon, Tuesday, March 1, 319 Jimmie Davis Blvd.

New Jackson Parish Tax Administrator has Dual Officeholding Conflict

02/02/2016

The just-hired administrator for the Jackson Parish Sales & Use Tax Commission apparently has a conflict with Louisiana’s “Dual Officeholding” Statutes.

Nia Evans, hired by the board last Friday, also serves on the Town of Jonesboro’s Board of Aldermen as Alderman-at-large.

According to LA RS 42:63:

D. No person holding an elective office in a political subdivision of this state shall at the same time hold another elective office or full-time appointive office in the government of this state or in the government of a political subdivision thereof. No such person shall hold at the same time employment in the government of this state, or in the same political subdivision in which he holds an elective office.

It appears Evans will either have to resign her council seat, or find another job.

The law’s Declaration of Policy (LA RS 42:61) states:

A. It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public officials and employees perform the public business in a manner which serves to promote and maintain in the general citizenry a high level of confidence and trust in public officials, public employees, and governmental decisions. The attainment of this end is impaired when a public official or employee holds two or more public offices or public jobs which by their particular nature conflict with the duties and interests of each other. The attainment of a high level of confidence and trust by the general citizenry in public officials, employees, and governmental decisions is further impaired by the excessive accumulation of governmental power which may result from public officials or employees holding two or more public offices or public jobs.