Missing funds spark talk of investigation
The subject of state intervention into the city’s financial affairs marked one of the most contentious council meetings since the start of Mayor Melinda Mitchell’s administration last July.
During Monday’s council meeting, rumored accounting discrepancies as well as misplaced checks and money orders brought suggestions that it may be time to seek a State Police investigation. At issue were traffic ticket proceeds and funding sources for two police department programs.
The council approved a motion by Councilman Craig Prosper to give the administration one week to locate $18,000 in missing ticket payments. The checks were left in the accountant’s desk drawer when she went on extended medical leave on Feb. 20.
Accountant Kim Duplechin had intended to return to work within a few days and sort out an accounting issue before depositing the funds, but her absence has been longer than expected. Chief Administrative Officer Shedrick Berard has not been able to locate the checks and money orders. Duplechin’s office was left locked, but numerous people have apparently had access in the weeks since.
Councilman Mike Fuselier questioned the unsupervised access given to employees as well as unpaid accounting consultants, including Mitchell’s transition manager Janine Coleman. Fuselier told the Teche News, “I don’t think we should have random people in our books like that.” Coleman addressed the council, mostly to weigh in on the mayor’s ongoing conflict with Prosper. “Why do you know so much about these missing funds?” she asked. “You chose not to help Shedrick. You just wanted to help yourself.”
“I’m not an accountant,” Prosper responded, “That’s the problem, we don’t have qualified people in these jobs.” Fuselier agreed. “We need a real accountant,” he said.
Prosper made a motion to call in the State Police investigators, saying “This floors me. I keep expecting it to be some April Fool’s joke.”
But Councilman Edmond Joseph disagreed, saying “We should let our people investigate this.”
The motion was not seconded.
Mayor Mitchell said, “This is serious. We have to account for this money.”
She told Police Chief Ricky Martin to have the ticket checks delivered to her personally from now on.
Also at issue is a lack of proper accounting for Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) funds and a state Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) grant for the police department.
A portion of ticket proceeds are supposed to be returned to the police under the LACE program, which provides additional funding for traffic enforcement. Berard said an expense account had been set up, but the funds had not been distributed. The council approved the transfer of $10,000 of those funds to the police.
DARE grant proceeds
of more than $12,000 were not allocated to the department due to the failure to establish an account to handle them. The funds were apparently placed in the general fund account without the budgetary line item being added.
St. Martinville Sr. High graduates of the program did not receive the supplies they were promised in January due to a failure of the city to transfer $1,200 from the grant.
Mitchell said she did not know about the problem, “I found out
about this in church last Sunday,” she said, “Nobody talks to me. I should have been the first to know.”