Audit: Opelousas may be in violation of state law

Posted at 12:14 PM, Apr 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 13:03:26-04
City of Opelousas / KATC TV3

A routine audit of the City of Opelousas found myriad problems with the way the government is operated.

Among the problems are a failure of city officials to attest that they had taken required annual ethics courses, and a deficit in the Government Activities Internal Service Funds of more than $1.8 million, which city officials told auditors they “plan to reduce by increasing revenues and/or decreasing expenditures.”

To read the entire audit, which includes the city’s response, scroll down.

The audit noted several findings that mean the City could be in violation of state law.

The city wasn’t handling unclaimed property properly, the audit found. When the city attempts to return utility and other deposits, and the checks are returned by the post office, the checks were simply put in a box in the Mayor’s secretary’s office, the audit found. Some of them were issued as far back as 2013, the audit found. State law requires that unclaimed property be forwarded to the State Treasurer on an annual basis, the audit states.

“The City may be in violation of state law,” the audit states.

The City also isn’t maintaining a list of capital assets or even keeping track of their location, the audit states. State law requires governments to keep a comprehensive list of assets – like equipment or vehicles – and make sure it is up to date.

“The City may be in violation of state law,” the audit states. “Inadequate internal controls exist for the safeguarding of the City’s capital assets.”

The audit also found the City might be in violation of state law for paying the City Clerk overtime for working in the city’s “shelter” during the August 2016 floods.

Last fall, a St. Landry Parish grand jury indicted Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum on 15 counts that include charges of malfeasance, injuring public records, forgery and theft. The charges stem from Tatum’s filing for overtime for his self-appointed role as manager of that shelter. KATC Investigates uncovered Tatum’s time sheets via public records requests and found that time sheets were also filed on behalf of council members.

Today’s audit states the City Clerk was paid for 74 overtime hours, which she’s not eligible to receive as a salaried employee. However, her salary, which is $53,300 annually, wasn’t set by the council as is required by state law, the audit found. Tatum simply set her salary, the audit found.

“State law may have been violated with the City Clerk receiving overtime pay and compensation,” the audit states. “Since the Clerk’s compensation wasn’t affixed by ordinance and there are no provisions for the payment of overtime to city employees, the city should consult with legal counsel to determine the appropriate legal actions to be taken.”

The audit found that neither the Police Chief salary nor the Fire Chief salary had been set by the council, which also is required by state law.

“The city may have violated state law by not affixing the compensation of the City Clerk, Chief of Police and Fire Chief,” the audit states.

The auditors also found that the city bought fuel and oil from a vendor without obtaining bids. Although the council authorized the mayor to ask for bids, city officials couldn’t provide any documentation that they did that, the auditor states.

“City may have violated state law by not adhering to Louisiana public bid law,” the audit states.

The audit found that more than $100,000 in unpaid invoices for Police Department expenses weren’t submitted to accounting for payment – even though some of them were as old as two years. The Chief told auditors that he had exceeded his budget for repairs and maintenance on police cars, and he didn’t think the invoices would be paid by the City. Auditors found this practice had been going on for years. The city should set up a procedure that requires all purchases go through a purchasing process, and also ensure that bills are paid on time so the city doesn’t have to pay late fees.

Even though it has been listed as a finding before, the city continues to fail to audit traffic citations as required by state law. The audit ensures that tickets are forwarded to the proper party for prosecution and not “disposed of” in any other manner, the audit states.

“Improper disposal of traffic citations is a violation of state law,” the audit states.

In response, the city sent a management letter promising to develop written policies and procedures to address the problems. The letter indicates the city is working with an “IT consultant” to address some of the issues.