East Baton Rouge Parish might not be reimbursed for some Homeland Security spending because it failed to follow federal and state grant rules, an administrator said Thursday.
The amount of money involved won’t be determined until officials complete a review of spending requests, said Clay Rives, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Rives’ comments came after officials from his office met Thursday with representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to go over grant procedures.
Mayor-President Kip Holden’s chief administrative officer, John Carpenter, and JoAnne Moreau, who heads the city-parish’s homeland security office, did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday afternoon.
Rives said GOHSEP received reimbursement requests from the city-parish under two federal Homeland Security grants for fiscal year 2008 that raised concerns.
“We are not saying they are doing anything illegal, immoral or unethical, but there are questions with what they have submitted,” Rives said.
He said the reimbursement requests indicated the city-parish is not following a state rule that all expenditures be “pre-approved by GOHSEP prior to the initiation or the obligation of grant funding.”
He said the city-parish also spent money on some projects — such as security improvements to the mayor’s office — without first obtaining a federally required environmental and historic preservation review.
“If they have obligated any funding or spent any funding prior to receiving an environmental and historic preservation review, the federal government will not allow us to reimburse them,” Rives said.
Such reviews are required any time homeland funds are used to permanently mount something to a structure or break ground for a new project.
Rives said the city-parish also appears to have spent more on salaries than federal homeland rules allow for one of the grants.
He said federal rules allowed 15 percent of the $636,332 homeland grant to be spent on salaries, but the city-parish appears to have spent 25 percent. That means about $159,000 was used to pay salaries while grant rules capped total salary payments at about $95,500, he said.
“It appeared from the documents they sent us that they had gone over that salary cap,” Rives said.
Rives said GOHSEP’s initial meeting with city-parish officials Thursday was productive and said they will be meeting again next week.
“We’re hoping to resolve these problems in the future,” Rives said.
Other disputed grants
The Homeland Security grants for fiscal year 2008 that GOHSEP is reviewing are separate from and unrelated to grants that have been at issue in a dispute between Holden and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
Those grants, for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, total $4 million. The city-parish, as of mid-April, had spent $1.2 million of that amount for which it expects reimbursement.
“We’re working closely with city-parish officials to identify what has already been obligated, and can waive GOHSEP’s spending pre-approval requirement if the items are eligible for funding,” Rives said. “We don’t want the city-parish to lose any federal funding.”
He said GOHSEP has asked the city-parish for more details on its spending plan for $921,181 in State Homeland Security Program grants for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
Rives said the spending plan the city-parish submitted lacked details on items the city-parish intends to purchase with available homeland grant funds.
GOHSEP took control over administering those grants last month after Holden refused to follow state rules and let Gautreaux review and sign the grant applications.
The state requires that parish sheriffs sign off on certain federal homeland grants as chief law enforcement officer because a 25 percent share is reserved for law enforcement purposes.
Two other federal Homeland Security grants for 2009 and 2010 under the Urban Areas Securities Initiative, totaling $2.9 million, remain in limbo because Holden has also refused to let Gautreaux review and sign off on those two grants.
Holden contends GOHSEP lacks the legal authority to require him to have the sheriff review and sign the grant documents. Holden has said the requirement essentially gives the sheriff veto power over how homeland funds are spent.
Rives said GOHSEP is hopeful Holden will allow the sheriff to review and sign off on the remaining two homeland grants, as state rules require.
If not, he said, GOHSEP will administer them itself, as it has the other two homeland grants.
“We have a responsibility as a state administrative authority to insure that all state and federal guidelines are met by all 64 Louisiana parishes receiving Homeland Security grants,” Rives said.