Authority exercises poor fiscal judgment

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2001

The Ferriday Housing Authority’s decision to place its director on leave with pay leaves us a bit dismayed.

According to a Legislative Auditor’s report, the authority director Charles Bell apparently misappropriated more than $218,000 in public funds during the course of four years – funds that the report said were used to pay personal expenses that ranged from a home air-conditioning unit to clothing and jewelry.

And while the District Attorney’s and U.S. Attorney’s office pursue charges against Bell, the authority’s board on Wednesday voted simply to place the director on leave with pay. That means Bell will collect his more than $26,000-a-year salary despite being barred from any responsibility or duties at the authority. In the words of one sympathetic board member, Bell &uot;needs something to live on.&uot;

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We politely disagree. By placing Bell on administrative leave without pay, authority members could have controlled the outflow of authority money while they wait for resolution of the allegations. And, if Bell is ultimately found innocent of the allegations, the authority board could certainly reinstate him with back pay.

Instead, the authority members voted to keep paying the salary of a director whose performance and integrity are in question, sending a message that they place more value on the director’s quality of life than fiscal stewardship of the authority’s multi-million dollar budget.

Given the gravity of the allegations and the staggering amount of money misappropriated from a $3 million-a-year-budget, we believe the authority’s board members should have exercised more fiscal responsibility in dealing with this situation.