Did Concordia Parish recreation officials violate law?

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

FERRIDAY — Officials with Concordia Parish Recreation District No. 1 may have violated state law by using district equipment and funds for personal use amongst other findings including misusing approximately $150,000, state auditors reported last week.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor investigated the recreation district No. 1, which serves Ferriday, Clayton and Wildsville, after receiving complaints about misuse of parish funds and equipment and issued five findings in a report released July 13.

The findings allege:

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-The district director used equipment for personal use.

-The district contracted with an immediate family member of the former board chair.

-The district did not use a licensed contractor in remodeling buildings at Learned Park.

-Board members received excessive compensation.

-Public funds were donated without proper documentation.

Concordia Parish Police Jury Secretary/Treasurer Kevin Friloux said the parish has received the audit but said neither he nor the jury has reviewed it. The police jury appoints recreation district members.

District No. 1 Chair Johnnie Woodruff did not return a voice mail message.

Auditors allege District Director Ronald Wilkerson used the district’s lawnmowers to cut personal property and also charged $3,423 in fuel from January 2014 to December 2015.

The auditor observed Wilkerson using one of the district’s three lawnmowers to cut grass at a private residence on Seventh Street and Delaware Avenue for family members. Wilkerson also told auditors he used the district’s lawnmower to cut the grass behind his house, for a local church and at former board chairman Robert Lee’s house. Lee died in May 2016.

Wilkerson said to auditors he was never paid for the lawn cutting services and that he also used personal funds to purchase fuel for the lawnmowers on occasion.

From May 2014 to November 2015, the district issued payments totaling $3,450 for transportation services to Lee Travels and Lee Private Bus, which are businesses owned and operated by former board member Robert Lee’s brother.

State law prohibits public servants from contracting and or participating in transactions involving the governmental entity and their immediate family members.

District Secretary Treasurer Justina Cook told auditors the Police Jury gave Lee the OK to contract with his brother.

From December 2015 to May 2016, the district issued 16 payments totaling $44,500 to Turner’s House Painting and Remodeling for services in remodeling two buildings at Learned Park. The company was not a licensed contractor, the work was performed without a written contract and the district failed to require the contractor to provide a surety bond. The total cost of the project was $60,569.

State law requires projects exceeding $5,000 to have written contracts and projects more than $25,000 are required to provide a surety bond not less than 50 percent of the contract price. For projects more than $50,000, a state-licensed contractor must be used.

Board members voted in 2008 to increase their monthly per diem rate to $30, while Lee as chair received a $300 monthly stipend. In 2012, board members increased their per diem to $40 and Lee’s stipend went to $500 in December 2014.

The audit found that because of these increases, the eight board members received $15,100 in excess of the per diem amounts provided for in state law. More than $12,500 of that figure went to Lee. Records also indicate Lee was paid in months where he did not even attend the board meetings, auditors found.State law allows board members of commissions to receive $10 for each meeting they attend.

From January 2013 to December 2015, the district donated $65,883 to at least 14 organizations without proper documentation and/or cooperative endeavor agreements. Of that figure, $47,396 was incurred to support recreational activities.

More than $18,000 of funds was donated for purposes not related to recreation.

-$5,000 was donated to a local non-profit to purchase a building.

-$1,500 was used to purchase 32 Kindles for elementary school students.

-$1,660 was used for sponsorships to attend the Concordia Parish Chamber of Commerce annual dinner.

-$1,000 was used to assist students in traveling to Costa Rica to practice Spanish.

In a letter dated July 5, 2016, Woodruff wrote to the legislative auditor that the district would review its policies, procedures and practices concerning purchases made on behalf of the district. The district will do the same concerning use, storage and maintenance of equipment and the expenditure of any proceeds under the ownership, management and control of the recreation district, wrote Woodruff.