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Aug 10, 2011 9:15 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Audit: Former AHA director overpaid herself

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Fired Alexandria Housing Authority Director Wanda Davis paid herself and other employees more than half a million dollars of unauthorized money over nine years, possibly violating state laws at the agency set up to help poor people live in decent homes, a state audit said.
The Aug. 3 report distributed Monday said that Davis paid herself more than $185,000 above her board-approved salary from 2002 until this year, when she was fired. The Town Talk reported that the investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office also found that from 2003 to 2009, Davis authorized payments of almost $350,000 to herself and other employees who were not entitled to the money.
"By increasing her salary and other compensation above the amounts approved by the board and making payments to other employees without authorization and appropriate documentation, Ms. Davis violated her employment contract, (AHA) policies, the Louisiana Constitution and possibly state law," the report said.
The newspaper said it could not contact Davis for comment and a call by The Associated Press at a number for her wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the report was forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office and the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office for review. District Attorney James Downs did not return a telephone message left at his office. Downs' secretary told The Town Talk he had read the report, but it was unknown whether he is considering criminal charges against Davis or others.
AHA board members fired Davis in May after months of looking into the agency's finances, discovering AHA was almost broke after years of mismanagement. Davis became executive director in March 2000 after starting with the agency in 1984.
The report said that in her years leading AHA, Davis often worked without an employment contract. She was not a classified civil service employee, yet she often gave herself cost-of-living increases that classified employees get, the report said.
"As a result of these increases, Ms. Davis received payments totaling $104,315 in excess of her board-approved salary" from 2002 to 2011, the report said.
The report said Davis' salary was $54,434 in 2002, the year from which auditors started investigating. Auditors found that in 2005, she approved a $20,000 a year raise for herself. In 2006, she gave herself another raise - increasing her salary from $87,422 to $96,165.
The investigators also discovered that someone might have forged former AHA board member Essie Iles' signature that authorized the pay increases for Davis.
Iles, who resigned from the board last year, said that "during her term as a board member, she does not recall a board discussion to increase Ms. Davis' annual salary, nor did the board perform any type of annual review of Ms. Davis' work ...," the report states.
The investigation, done at the request of new board members installed in September by Mayor Jacques Roy, reviewed documents and interviewed past board members, including former chairmen Lee Dotson and Henry Lazarone.
They said "it was not their intention to increase Ms. Davis' pay. ... Mr. Dotson further stated the board was not informed of the pay increase and he did not become aware of the increase until 2010," the report said.
The report also said Davis wrongly authorized the distribution of more than $300,000 to herself and 76 other employees, using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development meant for housing agencies with "high performer" status, which AHA never achieved.
Davis, according to the report, also gave employees $45,299 - including almost $12,000 to herself - in HUD Hurricane Katrina disaster funds.
Interim AHA Executive Director Cynthia Rosenthal did not return a message seeking comment.
The report also found that AHA might have broken state bid laws when it issued a work change order that allowed the contractor for the newly constructed, $5.3 million Legacy Heights housing to receive $1.53 million to build a new road and drainage near the 64-unit complex. Auditors concluded the extra work should have been bid.
In a letter to Purpera, AHA board member David Crutchfield said funds for the extra work on the road came from HUD, meaning the project could have been outside the bounds of the state's public bid law.
Crutchfield also said AHA is working to comply with the report's recommendations, including crafting a contract for the executive director that spells out compensation, the duration of the contract and responsibilities.

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