Brouhaha is defined as an episode involving excitement, confusion or turmoil, especially over a minor or ridiculous cause. This was the definition of the Parish Council meeting Monday night, Oct. 16.
Council Chair Patsy Ward Hoover read a resolution, throwing out a slew of unsubstantiated allegations of impropriety and calling for an audit from the State Legislative Auditor’s office. When asked to own up to their individual allegations, only Chris Paige spoke up.
The audit was first brought up by Hoover and the Councilmembers unanimously approved a resolution at the September 2016 meeting, but Councilman Rachal wanted it to go back as far as 2008. The request was submitted to the State, but it was too vague and the Council was asked to put their allegations in writing and to be specific (Council member Doug de Graffenried was the only one who didn’t contribute to the resolution). However, the resolution on the Oct. 16 agenda was so different from the minutes of the initial meeting that it was requested that the Council members vote on it again. It died for lack of a second.
The final agenda item to go into executive session regarding two recent pay raises for parish employees caused tensions to rise. Pay raises are not a matter for executive session and the ADA attending the meeting said Hoover was advised of this prior to the original agenda being released to the public. The ADA said she provided the language directly to the Council Clerk for the agenda item to be in compliance and that Hoover intentionally changed it. Hoover proceeded to blame the changes to the agenda language on Council member Russell Rachal. Rachal clarified that he only asked for the item to be added to the agenda, and that he never specifically requested it be discusses in executive session.
The argument then turned to what rights the Council has regarding the setting and approval of raises. Parish President Rick Nowlin notified the Council members of his decision to award the raises in accordance with the Home Rule Charter. The Council had issue with Nowlin making the raise for one employee retroactive, which appeared to circumvent their authority to reject the raise. However, it was still within the 30 day period after a salary change, so the Council could have voted it down, but chose to adjourn the meeting instead with no resolution on the matter.
Hoover also said Nowlin requested a raise for the Council Clerk but she refused his request. Nowlin denied that Hoover’s statement was true. Hoover was also overheard claiming one of her fellow council members requested the ADA that attends the Parish Council meetings be removed from her position. This too was denied.
So the NPJ became curious just how much of this poorly written resolution was fact and how much was a fictional witch hunt made up to cast doubt on parish employees.
The bottom line seems to be that the Council prepared a resolution full of innuendo and allegations that have been addressed at previous meetings or that could have been resolved easily had they sought an answer to their questions. The following allegations were made in the resolution and the NPJ has included links to documentation and opinions that refute each one:
1. Lack of Internal Control in the Finance Department, and misappropriation of funds. The amount of money that was stolen from the Finance Office has not been transparent and the Council members is not sure who all was involved
According to statements made by the Parish Treasurer at the meeting Monday night, no Council member has ever requested documentation regarding the investigation into the theft of funds that occurred in 2015 and that the Council was notified of the theft in executive session at the February 16, 2016 meeting. A compilation of findings from the Parish audits dating back to 1984 was provided to the Council showing that internal controls has been a problem for decades
2. The Parish residents have requested time, after time for basic road maintenance, and then Thousands of dollars are spent on dead end roads where prominent figures lives.
Even though the Council was advised that the resolution had to be specific, neither the name of the road and the amount of public funds allegedly spent on the road nor the name of the “prominent figure” that allegedly benefitted from the road repairs was provided.
3. We the Parish Council wants to make sure that we are not violating the Parish Transportation Act. The Parish Finance Department paid an amount of $2,000 to an individual that was only suppose to get $500.00, and there is not a reason why it was done or why it wasn’t discovered until on of the Councilman questioned it
NPJ questions why the Parish Council would ask the State to investigate improper payments for the lease of the Creston Polling Place property when it not only renewed the lease but also voted to double the amount of the annual lease payment at its November, 2016 meeting?
See copy of November 2016 minutes from NPG website-CLICK
4. We have Cunningham Agency (Risk Management of LA) handling Property, Worker’s Comp, Public Officials, Auto, Bond, and In-land Marine, Jim Sandifer handling Health, Life, Dental, Vision, and AD&D, and Terry Downs: Supplemental Insurance, The Natchitoches Parish Council didn’t have any input on selecting these agents and wasn’t included in the process of making these agents as brokers for all the insurance policies for the Parish Government or Parish Employees; Is this legal to only use these agents if the Council didn’t vote to approve this?; The Council and the residents of Natchitoches Parish is questioning this
5. The Natchitoches Parish Government has several persons that is being paid from multiple funds, You have employees getting paid from funds that they have stopped or no longer working in that particular department, an employee doesn’t have the proper credentials in working in the Finance Office or Purchasing according to the Natchitoches Parish Personnel Manual. This employee is issuing out PO’s, paying bills, printing checks, and receiving the statements, have access to the vault, and uses the credit cards to make purchases, pay bills with them and is not in the Finance Department. Therefore, the Council foresees a problem concerning this: Where are the Controls?
6. The Parish sold Hot mix equipment and the unknown question is: What was the date of the sell?, To whom is was sold to? And How much it was sold for?, and What fund was the money applied to?, and the next concern is the November 12, 2012 meeting. Was the public bid law violated? There was 7 projects created instead of the one project that was approved for the project. January 1, 2008 until current has any Police Juror/Councilman was named Director or Supervisor/Assistant Director or Assistant Supervisor in any department and was given a salary for it while they were an elected official
Parish Treasurer provided a compilation of assets sold by the Parish in the last 7 years. No Hot Mix equipment has been sold in that time period.
The Police Jury was found to have violated the State Bid law in 2012, the last year of its existence.