Audit finds Louisiana town violated state laws on budgets and salary increases

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

The town of Gibsland likely violated a number of laws in recent years due to budget failures, unauthorized salary increases, paying employees who don’t record work hours and other issues, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued a report for Gibsland last week that details findings from an investigative audit “to determine the validity of complaints we received.”

Auditors found Gibsland officials “may have violated state law since it could not provide records to demonstrate a properly adopted budget for the fiscal year ended June 20, 2022.”

The lack of a proper budget tied into a failure to budget American Rescue Plan Act Funds, as well as other issues involving no-bid vehicle purchases, and improperly paid incentives to town officials.

“Mayor Ray Ivory and Alderman Julius Pearson appear to have violated state law by disregarding requirements of the (Local Government Budgeting Act), Lawrason Act, and Public Bid Law in the performance of their duties,” the audit read. “Mayor Ivory and Alderman Julius Pearson signed Town checks to pay unbudgeted and unauthorized salary incentives to elected officials and Town employees without a board-approved budget or an ordinance to increase pay for the elected officials and Town clerk.

“Mayor Ivory and Alderman Julius Pearson also signed Town checks to purchase three vehicles for the Town without a board-approved budget and without advertising the purchase for bid,” auditors wrote.

The $20,000 total in salary incentives included $2,000 for the mayor, $2,000 for the town clerk, $2,000 for the chief of police, $10,000 for aldermen, and $4,000 for water employees.

The report noted that Town Clerk Rockettia Brown works part-time for Gibsland and full-time as the Town of Arcadia’s clerk. Gibsland records show Brown was paid for 80 hours of work bi-weekly until Feb. 2019, when her hours were reduced to 45 hours bi-weekly. There are no records of Brown’s work hours after August 2019.

“Mayor Ivory did not set a part-time schedule for her, and there is no record of hours she worked,” the report read. “Since the Mayor does not require Ms. Brown to work a specified number of hours or keep records of the hours she works, but authorizes her to receive the full budgeted amount, he may have violated the state constitution and state law.”

Auditors credited Ivory with failing to ensure the town completes an annual audit, as well. The last audit occurred in June 2020, posing another potential violation of state law.

The report noted Gibsland is also improperly classified as a town with five elected aldermen, despite federal census data that shows a population of fewer than 1,001 since at least 2010. The town should be reclassified as a village with three elected aldermen, and leaders may have violated state law because they have not adopted a resolution requesting the governor to change the classification, auditors wrote.

Auditors offered a lengthy list of recommendations to rectify the various issues, and Ivory responded to the report in two undated letters to Waguespack that blamed many of the problems on the pandemic.

“Ultimately, The Council, Staff, and I were at the forefront and elements of the Pandemic. We never deterred our efforts. Right now, we are still in the midst of the Pandemic,” Ivory wrote. “We will continue to do what is necessary to protect our communities, infrastructure, and critical services as before – We will not deter from our responsibilities.”

Ivory also defended Gibsland’s arrangement with town clerk Rockettia Graham, alleging “there is no way to keep track of time spent during calls and emails” with town officials required by her position, and provided documentation of the town’s dispute of census figures.

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