Upon taking office in January 2015, this administration has noted a number or serious problems, some of which I had described in my State of the City Address given in May. Due to the seriousness of many of the issues, I have disclosed our findings to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor who has confirmed that the City is not complying with State Law and Harahan’s own ordinances. I have provided councilmen copies of the Auditor’s findings; it is also posted on the city website.
The issues are as follows:
Property tax not properly collected and tax sales not performed.
This violates Louisiana Revised Statute 47:2154 that states the tax collector (who is also our Municipal City Clerk, Ms. Lee) shall perform these duties. The tax collector must follow the constitution.
Solution: I am formally requesting our city’s tax collector to follow the Louisiana Constitution or this body to put forth a resolution authorizing me to enter into an agreement to have these services provided for by a capable agency.
Improper Health Insurance Premiums Paid.
For years, the City failed to follow its own ordinances as to how to provide insurance to its employees. The accounting was sloppy and riddled with errors. The City also improperly provided benefits to employees who were no longer with the city.
Solution: The City is closely working with its insurance agent and provider to ensure that the city’s policy manual is followed and that insurance is only provided to employees who work for the city. The city has corrected the accounting issues and has also addressed staffing issues that contributed to this problem. We will continue to closely monitor this issue.
Improper Compensation to City Council Members.
The City improperly paid health and life insurance premiums for City Council members from May 1, 2013 to May of this year. This payment violated Harahan ordinance 1562 and 1361.
Solution: This administration consulted the Louisiana Municipal Association, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to seek advice. Then, City Attorney, Anzelmo issued an opinion that the city could no longer continue this practice. This opinion was hand delivered by me to the council. Prior to stopping their coverage, time was allotted for the council to obtain insurance and then stopped by July 1, 2015.
I would also like to thank the more than 100 citizens who sent cards, letters and emails to voice their objections in this matter. I have also be cc’d on some of the correspondence the council has received, Mr. Baudier 30, Ms. Huete 31, Mr. Johnston 27, Ms. Benton 28, and Ms. Wheeler 29. It was your support that led me to veto the recent ordinance for council insurance.
Unsupported Payments to Contractors and Employees
Inadequate and Outdated Contracts
Undocumented Employee Pay Raises
Missing Public Records
The City could not provide documentation either in employee files or contracts to support payments or justify employment or services. Contracts were either missing, incomplete, or inadequate. Employee files were unorganized and poorly maintained, had missing pertinent information, and basically unusable. The City is in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 44:46 that requires that public records be maintained. The Lawrason Act clearly states that it is the duty of the City Clerk to maintain all pertinent records.
The City is methodically retrieving contracts and grants and other important official documents from original sources. We are building from scratch proper city employee files and documents. The City is requesting the City Clerk’s assistance to bring the city into compliance. It is also important that the city invest in a document imaging system, a system I recommended as a priority several months back. Although we did not receive enough funds from Councilman Johnston to support this initiative this year, I will request funding next year and look for savings in our budget to support its acquisition.
Noncompliance with the Local Government Budget Act
The prior administration and council did not put in place an operating budget for 2015 which violates Louisiana Revised Statute 38:1305. In the last 4 years, the budget has been illegally overspent and the City spent more than 2.2 million than it should have.
Solution-Upon taking office we repaired our crippled financial software, completed a number of audits and passed a budget that we have not overspent and have actually seen some savings. There is still much work to be done to relieve the city of its very real 1.2 million dollar deficit.
I would like to caution our citizens to not be misled by excuses about disasters or emergency sinkholes. These are great sound bites but will create a distraction from the real issues of overspending. Disasters and emergencies do have policies and procedures and also laws that dictate how a city spends money to handle these issues, however the city chose not to follow them which caused Harahan to not be reimbursed to the full extent it was eligible.By no means do I want to give the impression that this report I presented to you is comprehensive. Out city website has a copy of the report(Click to View). You can also find a copy under the Government tab located in the main menu. The city is working diligently to make the corrections, but coming into compliance is just the beginning. We must build a functioning government. This process will not be accomplished in a few days, weeks, or months. It took over 20 years for Harahan to find itself in this position. I respectfully ask for your patience as we continue to build the government that you, the people, deserve.
The city is in great need of a city attorney and cannot function prudently, or properly, without one.
US DOJ consent decree that requires a response in October of this year.
Address the legal issues referred to in the Legislative Auditor’s Report.
Several active lawsuits, with one going to trial in several weeks.
Address a backlog of legal issues. Police Chief Walker has pressing and urgent matters that have been left unaddressed for months.
Input to comply with LGBA, all state and federal laws, contracts, FEMA and GOSEP guidelines, employment issues, and so on.
By law, the city attorney is appointed by the Mayor; then they are confirmed by the council.
Thank you for your continuing support.