Auditor: Housing authority moving in right direction
Things are improving at the Morgan City Housing Authority, but there remain issues the authority needs to address, the housing authority’s new auditor said Thursday during a preliminary presentation by phone of the upcoming annual audit at the monthly commission meeting.
In addition to the preliminary audit discussion, Clarence Robinson, interim executive director, said he is seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to retain Berwick attorney Robert L. Duffy as the authority’s legal counsel.
With HUD and commission approval, his retention will end over five years in which the authority operated without a retained attorney. Despite running several advertisements for the position, the authority has been without an attorney on retainer since Craig Stewart’s contract expired in September 2008, Diana Pace, accounting technician for the authority, said previously. It has been relying on assistance from Greg Aucoin, Morgan City city attorney, said Victory Ho, commission chairman, in an earlier interview.
Daniel McCaskill, a Mandeville certified public accountant, cited as many as seven possible findings that could be included in the draft of the housing authority’s audit, but after input from Robinson and Pace, he acknowledged the number of findings may be less by the time the audit is written.
McCaskill said his firm specializes in audits for housing authorities.
Rental reasonableness test must be conducted annually by the housing authority and the Morgan City Housing Authority’s tests were outdated, McCaskill said. Robinson responded, saying the authority is performing such tests and comparisons internally. McCaskill said it was good to conduct them locally rather than hire out-of-area entities to perform the tests which may not be as accurate.
McCaskill questioned the arrangement the housing authority has with Glenda’s D&B Seafood for leasing about an acre and a half of its land located along La. 70 for $12 a year.
According to minutes obtained from the housing authority from a June 20, 2007, public meeting, the board of commissioners at that time “asked that an agreement be made” between the housing authority and the business “for the use of the vacant property adjacent to the main office. The agreement has been made.”
The lease was for 10 years with an option to be renewed another 10 years on the same terms. The leased property is part of the tract which houses Brownell Homes.
McCaskill said there are issues that need to be addressed regarding the lease that he wants to discuss with management before he decides on whether to include it as a finding in the audit.
McCaskill emphasized that none of the findings indicate anything fraudulent is happening at the authority. He said the authority is moving in a “positive direction.”
“I don’t see anything that points the finger that somebody did anything wrong,” McCaskill said. “I am not talking of the bonus thing. I don’t know where that is going.”
The previous audit of the authority revealed $145,000 in bonus overpayments to three civil service employees and former executive director Charles Spann.
The investigation of those overpayments has been turned over to the Office of Inspector General, Robinson said earlier in the day.
One of the employees has resigned and the other two are still employed.
“The matter has not been dropped. The investigation is ongoing,” Robinson said. “I have been informed not to speak on the specifics of the investigation. … Taxpayers will be satisfied once this is complete.”
Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez, state civil service public information officer, said recoupment of funds is a civil matter and is not the State Civil Service Commission’s responsibility. It is up to the housing authority to pursue the recovery of the funds, she said.
Robinson said that cannot be done until the inspector general investigation is complete and until the housing authority gets an attorney.
Civil service rules allow for optional pay of up to 10 percent of an employee’s salary. Spann said he accepted a manager’s interpretation of housing authority policy and civil service rules leading to the payments the auditor questioned.
Federal officials with Housing and Urban Development recently visited the property and were thrilled at how much it has improved over the past year, Robinson said. He praised the diligence and work of the staff in correcting issues that have troubled the agency.
“Housing Authority files are phenomenal, impeccable … we are making tremendous strides,” Robinson said.