Mar 23, 2014 1:44 PM by AP
WESTWEGO, La. (AP) - Responding to a critical assessment of how Westwego ran its senior citizens programs, Mayor Johnny Shaddinger has told state auditors that all city employees will be required to take ethics training.
Shaddinger discussed ethics training in his response to an audit that found the city and a former employee who oversaw Westwego's Ernest J. Tassin Senior Center might have violated state ethics laws. The response was made public this past week, with the audit's release.
An investigation last year focused on how Westwego handled $11,000 donated to its seniors programs. Westwego police and Jefferson Parish prosecutors concluded no one intended to steal public money, NOLA.com ' The Times-Picayune reports.
However, Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera's office says the city and former seniors program coordinator Ted Bergeron might have broken ethics laws.
Bergeron, who resigned in January, has not responded to the audit.
Much of the $11,000 Westwego received for senior services was spent on trips, gifts and meals, officials said. The money was mixed with Westwego's general fund, meaning the city could not spend it on items such as gifts and meals.
To get around the restrictions, the city transferred about $4,374 to Louisiana Kids Inc., a nonprofit for which Bergeron is a co-director, according to the audit. The city had no formal agreements with the nonprofit, auditors said.
Shaddinger told auditors the transfer "was done to correct the error of depositing the funds into city accounts rather than that of a nonprofit organization." He said the city will develop a written policy addressing how donations can be solicited and used.
Auditors also noted that people occasionally gave Bergeron money "as a reward for his assistance to seniors." Bergeron told auditors he spent the money only on the senior center.
Regardless, Purpera said in the audit, accepting donations might have put Bergeron in violation of a law prohibiting a public servant from accepting "anything of economic value, other than the compensation and benefits to which he is entitled from his governmental employer" for doing his job.
Shaddinger said Bergeron's resignation was unrelated to the audit.
Responding to the audit, Shaddinger said the state code of ethics prohibits employees from accepting personal donations.
"We will develop a formal ethics policy for the city, which will include a requirement that employees adhere to the Louisiana code of ethics and sign a statement annually indicating that they understand and will abide by it," the mayor told the auditor's office.
Shaddinger has not yet given a plan for ethics training to the City Council but told auditors the council will get proposed policies and goals for operation of the senior center.
Hundreds of elderly people live in Westwego, but only 50 to 60 participate in the city's senior citizens programs, Shaddinger said.
Under his watch, Westwego seniors were treated to a cruise, trips out of state, gambling at casinos and meals at restaurants, according to the audit.
Such spending led the Jefferson Council on Aging to part ways with the city last year.
The Council on Aging had given the city about $40,000 in state money, a portion of the $200,000 the city budgeted for its senior center last year. The Council on Aging still provides and delivers meals to seniors at their homes in Westwego. Shaddinger has said Jefferson Parish Councilman Paul Johnston has given the city $22,000 a year over two years, to cover the loss.
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