Thursday, May 30, 2024

Audit finds numerous personnel issues with Louisiana flood protection authority

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

A recent audit of a Louisiana agency that manages flood protection in three parishes found a variety of human resources issues, from alleged discrimination, to civil service rule violations to problems with the agency’s grievance process.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued a report this week that examined policies and practices, and employee perspectives on the organizational culture at Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, which was created in 2007 to coordinate regional flood protection efforts in Orleans, East Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.

The performance audit, which stemmed from a 2021 request from lawmakers, highlighted concerns from employees about discrimination and leadership, as well as recommendations for improvement.

Auditors found the SLFPAE maintained a grievance policy as required by civil service rules, but “did not maintain all grievance documentation, track grievances, or ensure that the policy clearly states which issues are addressed through the grievance process …”

An April 2022 survey of SLFPAE employees found 46 out of 150 respondents, about 30%, felt the agency did not follow its grievance policy and 58, or 38.7%, feared retaliation if they filed a grievance, according to the report.

The LLA noted that despite policies prohibiting discrimination, 27.5% of those surveyed reportedly experienced or witnessed discrimination within the prior year.

“The most common types of discrimination reported at SLFPAE involved age (18 or 19.4%), race or ethnicity (17 or 18.3%), or sex (12 or 12.9%),” auditors wrote.

Auditors also found SLFPAE did not always follow civil service rules for disciplinary actions between 2018 and 2022. In one example, the agency fired an employee for sex harassment, “racially based conduct” and leaving a firearm unsecured. The terminated employee later received $38,000 in back pay after the Department of State Civil Service found SLFPAE did not give the employee a reasonable chance to respond and neglected to provide enough detail about the conduct in disciplinary letters, auditors wrote.

In addition, auditors found eight of SLFPAE’s 15 executive management employees, or 53.3%, had not completed supervision training courses required by DSCS as of June 2022.

Other issues included in the LLA report involved an ambiguous employee rewards and recognition program, lack of an internal audit since 2019, and four positions that were not legally authorized as unclassified.

The LLA offered a series of recommendations to improve operations: Updating and clarifying the grievance process, mitigating discriminatory behavior, following Civil Service rules for disciplinary action, orientation for SLFPAE board members, revisions to the rewards and recognition policy, regular internal audits and rectifying the four unapproved unclassified positions.

SLFPAE Regional Director Kelli Chandler responded to the findings in a letter to legislative leaders on Sept. 8 that agreed with the recommendations and explained how the agency has taken action.

SLFPAE updated its grievance procedure on July 1 and instituted mandatory training for supervisors on several issues that is expected to be completed by all supervisors by the end of the year.

The agency also incorporated new language in disciplinary action letters, and now tracks disciplinary action to ensure it’s consistent. In addition, SLFPAE instituted a formal orientation for board members, updated the executive team’s training, and implemented a formal process for tracking separations, Chandler wrote.

SLFPAE is also working with DSCS to improve its employee rewards program, evaluating the need for an internal audit, and coordinating with DSCS “to either convert or gain approval for the four unclassified positions,” according to the letter.

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