The quaint little town of Grand Coteau will conduct its own population count, its mayor said, in hopes it’ll prove wrong the 2010 census that counted 947 residents — a tally that actually makes it the quaint little village of Grand Coteau.
The resident count that Mayor Shaterral Johnson said officials are preparing to carry out is one of the responses Grand Coteau is making to Louisiana investigators, who found problems in the way the municipality is run, according to a state legislative auditor’s report released Monday.
One of the problems identified in the investigative audit is that Grand Coteau is wrongly running itself as a town, a designation that has political implications, particularly the number of people who can be elected to represent the local population.
The audit also found that Grand Coteau officials keep sloppy records, and that they gave municipal employees an unauthorized day off Feb. 15 — Presidents Day — which investigators noticed when they were in town looking into government practices and found Town Hall locked up.
Johnson, who was appointed mayor in July after former Mayor Virginia Pierre resigned, said officials are trying to meet the recommendations made by auditors. The first is organizing a Grand Coteau-led population count to counter the 2010 census total that calculated the number of people at less than 1,000, which would classify Grand Coteau as a village.
The audit suggested two routes: Send a resolution to Gov. John Bel Edwards requesting that Grand Coteau be reclassified as a village or organize a population count.
Politically, it could be a fight if the numbers don’t reach 1,000 or more. Louisiana law classifies villages as municipalities with 999 or fewer people, towns at 1,000 to 4,999 residents, and cites at 5,000 or more. Louisiana law also states that villages are to be governed by a three-person board of aldermen instead of Grand Coteau’s five-person board, the number used in towns.
“We’re in the process of getting that done,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how soon. As soon as we get it done, we’ll let you know.”
Johnson said she and others disagree with the census count of 2010, which pegged the population at 947, a drop of almost 100 from Census 2000’s count of 1,040 residents.
More immediately, Johnson and aldermen scheduled a special meeting Monday afternoon to address auditors’ finding that employees enjoyed a paid Presidents Day off in February, which was not on Grand Coteau’s list of official holidays.
“If the town wishes to observe additional holidays, those holidays should be specified by ordinance,” the audit states.
Grand Coteau officials were scheduled Monday to adopt the same list of 10 holidays observed by employees of Louisiana and St. Landry Parish, where Grand Coteau is located, Johnson said.
She said taking that day off was a carryover policy from previous administrations. “We’re correcting that,” she said.
Johnson said she and a staff member also are correcting the audit’s finding of sloppy record keeping. The report recommended turning paper files into electronic documents for better organization and a faster turnaround when copies of public records are requested.
“Additionally, the town should identify vital records and ensure that they are not exposed to the elements,” according to the audit, which also suggested that officials craft a “carefully designed disaster recovery plan.”
“The unintended loss of important records could cost the town untold dollars and threaten the town’s ability to function,” the audit stated.
Johnson was appointed mayor by the Board of Aldermen in July 2015 after Pierre resigned. Johnson had been scheduled to run against an opponent in an October special election. But her opponent, Patrick Neil Richard, was disqualified by a judge after he was discovered to have unpaid fines for failing to file a financial campaign disclosure statement in 2012, which meant Johnson was automatically elected to the position.