Housing authority bonuses continued

Clarence Robinson, interim executive director of the Morgan City Housing Authority

Bonuses of $56,000 paid to Morgan City Housing Authority staff have been questioned by a private auditor — the second consecutive year staff bonuses have been cited by an auditor.
The report, covering the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013, and issued by Daniel McCaskill of Mandeville, was released by the legislative auditor’s office this morning. The bonuses are on top of $161,280 in bonuses which public records showed were paid to three office workers and the former executive director, Charles Spann, in the previous fiscal year. About $123,000 of that total was more than allowed by civil service regulations for the three staff workers.
McCaskill said in his report that “documentation supporting all bonuses must be maintained by MCHA. It is essential that the board understand who is being paid how much … and the amount of salary versus bonus.”
The interim executive director of the Morgan City Housing Authority, Clarence Robinson, balked at providing documentation to the newspaper nor would he answer when the bonuses stopped and who received them.
Morgan City Police Capt. Mark Griffin Jr., a housing authority commissioner, said an investigation begun by police is in its early stages.
Victory Ho, commission chairman, said the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is conducting an investigation as well, but they have not told him the status of the investigation.
“They said we will call you, don’t call us,” Ho said of federal investigators.
Marta Metelko, OIG spokeswoman, said it is standard policy not to confirm or deny investigations.
“I am still looking for repayment of the bonuses from the earlier audit,” Ho said. “I am waiting on the local and federal authorities to finish their jobs so the misappropriated money can be returned to the Morgan City Housing Authority.”
Robert L. Duffy, the recently retained attorney for the authority, will be asked to look into what can be done to recover the bonus money, Ho said.
“It will be on our agenda at the next meeting,” Ho promised. That meeting is scheduled for June 26.
Last November, shortly after being selected as interim director, Robinson said a decision would be made early this year on what to do about recouping more than $145,000 in funds paid to the three employees and former director.
“The taxpayers will be satisfied once this is complete,” Robinson said at the time.
Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez, Civil Service public information officer, said recoupment of funds is a civil matter and is not the State Civil Service Commission’s responsibility, but is up to the housing authority.
Spann resigned on June 4, 2013, after an annual auditor’s report revealed he accepted more than $22,350 in bonuses, which he acknowledged he was not eligible to receive and said he would repay. Additionally, an overpayment of $123,000 to the three civil service employees would have to be repaid by those employees, Spann said.
In addition to Spann, public records showed the three office personnel in the 2012 audit receiving overpayment of bonuses were:
—Sandra Greene; salary $57,831; eligible for $5,783 in bonuses; paid $56,377; overpaid $50,594.
—Diana Pace; salary $48,131; eligible for $4,813 in bonuses; paid $46,913; overpaid $42,100.
—Tori Johnson; salary $37,881; eligible for $3,788 in bonuses; paid $34,185; overpaid $30,397.
Johnson resigned shortly before the audit of the 2012 fiscal year was released. Greene and Pace continue to work in the office.
The 2013 fiscal year audit report said bonuses paid to staff appear to be based on calculations not in compliance with housing authority policies. The housing authority policy was not approved by the State Civil Service Commission, the audit stated.
The auditor recommended no future bonuses be considered until the housing authority reports a balance healthy enough to support future operations.
The report went so far as to recommend “all staff salary levels be reconsidered based on the financial health of MCHA at this time. It may be that current salary levels have, over time, become distorted and should be adjusted to the realistic value of the services performed by each staff member.”
The board should be provided budgets that “clearly describe salaries and bonuses in … formats that are both entity wide and detailed for each staff member and for each MCHA program.
“This is a repeat finding from the prior audit and the matter was previously referred to the HUD OIG as well as the Morgan City Police Department for consideration,” McCaskill said in his audit. “Authority expenditures regarding bonuses were not properly approved by the board of commissioners and were in violation of federal and state laws and regulations.”
Spann, who had led the housing authority since 2007, said he accepted an unnamed manager’s “misinterpretation” of a 2007 housing authority policy and civil service regulations.
Ho said Spann has not yet returned any of the bonus money he paid himself.

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

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