Ferriday takes action on audit report

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. – A Louisiana state auditor’s review of the Town of Ferriday has revealed hit-and-miss tracking of traffic tickets, lax efforts to collect water bills and some conflicting accounting figures.

The report, which State Auditor Dan Kyle made public Monday, uncovered violations of bond agreements, irregular inventories of town property and incomplete time cards and personnel files.

&uot;This is a very serious situation,&uot;&160;Kyle said. &uot;Some of these things, like tracking tickets, we see often in small towns. Others, like the personnel matters, … are more rare.&uot;

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The town has already sprung into action, taking 20 steps to comply with the report, from putting in place detailed procedures for tracking tickets and time cards to working out a plan to deposit money in its sales tax and public works funds.

The review was not an investigation, Kyle said, and town officials have not been charged with any crimes.

Still, Kyle said his office forwarded its findings last week to the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The D.A.’s Office would be the one to look at possible criminal charges, although Kyle would not specify what charges those could be.

Paul Scott, district director for the D.A.’s office, said that office had not received the report as of Monday.

The report could also be forwarded to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council, a group of nine state legislators that oversees the State Auditor’s Office.

William Rucker, president of the Ferriday Town Council, said the council will discuss the report at tonight’s regular meeting. &uot;We’ll do it in executive session,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;When I&160;last talked to (Kyle’s office), it (the report) was confidential.&uot;

Mayor Odeal Montgomery did not return calls, and Police Chief Eddie Newman had no comment.

An auditor from Kyle’s office visited Ferriday earlier this summer to get answers regarding a Sept. 1, 1998, accountants’ report about the problem of broken water meters in Ferriday. As of September, 380 of the town’s 1,457 meters had broken, mostly due to age – costing the town $117,000 a year in lost revenues. During the auditor’s visit, according to Kyle’s report, &uot;additional matters … came to our attention.&uot; The report was done by looking at town records, talking with town employees, reviewing state laws and attorney general’s opinions and making other inquiries.

According to responses Montgomery and Newman sent to Kyle’s office:

– The town clerk will endorse all checks before giving them to the water billing clerk. She will record mileage readings on town vehicles before payment is made for gas. Personal purchases for workers have been stopped.

– Personnel records will be corrected to comply with town policy about annual leave for workers. The town will keep on file workers’ pay amounts and worker eligibility forms. Workers will complete time cards, which will be approved by their bosses. Workers will not be paid for hours worked when they have not punched in or out.

– The town has told water customers that it will enforce its policy on past-due bills. It is replacing broken water meters, and more than 300 new meters have been installed. The mayor and council will discuss ways to collect past-due accounts.

– With regard to tickets, the police records clerk has been moved to a new office. Ticket books are numbered, and an officer must complete his current book to get another. Ticket books are kept in a locked closet that only the chief, assistant chief and records clerk can access. Ticket numbers will be placed on receipts.

– The performance of Ferriday police Officer Ricky Hollins will be watched closely.

&uot;We now know that between the Ferriday Police Department, Vidalia sanitation and the Concordia Sheriff’s Department that he is being paid for 21 hours per day on certain days and that we are concerned for his safety as well as his job performance,&uot;&160;Newman said in his response.

Kyle said his office will follow up with town officials at a later date to make sure such steps are being taken.

&uot;But we don’t want to set a timetable for followup,&uot;&160;Kyle said. &uot;We don’t want them to see us coming.&uot;