The finances of the City of Jeanerette are in such disarray that a state-appointed administrator may be appointed to take over city operations.
The city hasn't submitted an audit for two years in a row, because auditors couldn't make sense of the city's records. If that happens a third year in a row, it could trigger not only the state takeover but also malfeasance charges against the mayor, Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera said at a meeting last month.
Without audits, there is no way to assure the public that their city is being run correctly and their money is being spent properly, Purpera said.
"I hate to see the town get into fiscal administration, but if that is the only way to correct this, we're going to do it," Purpera told Mayor Aprill Foulcard at a meeting in Baton Rouge last month.
The Legislative Auditor's office has been trying to help Jeanerette get its finances straight since 2013 - which is the year Foulcard took over the mayor's office. Staff have given the Mayor advice on what to do, and even sent people to train her employees. The city also hired a CPA firm to try to reconstruct some of the financial records that don't exist. Despite all that, still no one can say what the city's fiscal state is.
Bradley Cryer, Director of Local Government for the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office, said in a Wednesday interview that Jeanerette is in danger of failing to submit an audit this year. That could result in the "fiscal administration" classification that would place an appointed administrator in control of the city.
Municipalities and other governmental entities in Louisiana submit annual audits, performed by privately-contracted CPAs, each year to the auditor's office. Jeanerette's most recent audit was for the fiscal year that ended in June 2014. That one was submitted a year later than normal, in 2016.
"The auditors hired for 2015 and 2016 could not complete the audits, because the records weren't sufficient," Cryer explained. "We brought them before the committee to provide information on how they are going to fix the situation."
Cryer said the city's staff is big enough to handle the job, but at the committee meeting last month noted that Foulcard's staff appears "incapable or unwilling" to do the work that is required to keep the books properly. He said one auditor said the city's records are "a complete mess."
"We've made recommendations on how to improve operations. We've been back twice, and we haven't seen any progress," Cryer said.
For instance, the city doesn't have duties properly segregated among employees, and the city's bank accounts aren't being reconciled. Checks are being written, but they aren't being properly entered into the city's records. Transfers between budgets aren't being recorded properly, either. No bank accounts have been properly reconciled, auditors said.
"That's something we would expect everyone to be doing," Cryer said of the reconciliations.
Cryer said it's hard to say anything about the city's financial position.
"Because the auditors couldn't really get clean records for the last few years, it's difficult to say where they are financially at this point," Cryer said.
At the Fiscal Review Committee meeting on February 21, Mayor Aprill Foulcard appeared to answer questions from Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera and the committee. If you want to watch that meeting for yourself, click here. The section on Jeanerette begins at the 71:00 mark.
During that meeting, Foulcard said she's tried everything that has been asked of her, including hiring outside help and upgrading the town's software.
Cryer said the purpose of the meeting was to ensure Foulcard "understands that this is a serious situation."
Foulcard told the committee she understands that.
"Trust me, you're not saying something I'm not aware of," Foulcard said. "I'm going to do what I have to do. That's not a problem."
But earlier in the meeting, when Purpera asked her simply "What happened?" Foulcard placed blame on a former city clerk, on an outdated software system, on an accounting firm - but did not at any time accept responsibility for the inability of her staff to keep the city's books properly.
"You have a legal obligation to be accountable to the public. That's your responsibility," Purpera said.
"That's correct," she answered.
"If I were you, I would be doing everything I can between now and the next audit period to get those books straight," Purpera advised.
A member of the committee added that Foulcard has a chance now to turn things around; but once the audit period ends without any improvement "that goes away."
"We want the city doing better," Purpera said. "We don't want you to have to come back. But we also know, come next (failure to file an audit), we're going to have a difficult decision. It's not a decision we take lightly.
"You have a responsibility to be accountable to (the citizens). We make sure that happens. We're going to take our responsibility seriously. You have a few months to convince us. That's the best way I can say it. Whatever help we can give you, we will give you."
The city's most recent audit, for the fiscal year that ended in June 2014, reflects a $55,000 deficit in the general fund and a $215,000 operating loss for the first full year of Foulcard's time as mayor. She was initially appointed, after the last mayor died, in July 2013. She was later elected to serve out the full term.
Mayor Foulcard did not agree to do a sit down interview, but KATC Investigates did manage to talk to her in the lobby of Jeanerette City Hall. She said the city still has an interim clerk, but has contacted an accounting firm to hire a turnaround expert.
"What we're trying to do is get a firm to come in because that's the first nature of business," said Foulcard. "All I'm doing now is reviewing their estimated quotes."
In response to taxpayer concerns that they can not trace where their money went, Mayor Foulcard replied, "Well all I can do is say this: We do our best at providing the necessary and adequate services that is needed here for the city, and that's what we will continue to do."
To read the audit for yourself, see below.