Baton Rouge 3rd Louisiana city to support program for homeless vets _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority executive director Richard Murray, at a press conference announcing East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden's acceptance of the federal government’s 'Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness,' Wednesday at the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless.

The top two executives at the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority collected $75,000 more in pay than they were supposed to receive over the past two years, which they will now have to pay back to the publicly funded agency.

Officials say the overpayments were the result of "human error" and there is no indication of fraud on the part of the executives.

East Baton Rouge Housing Authority Board Chairwoman Dianna Payton started a performance evaluation of Executive Director Richard Murray late last month when she noticed his salary level seemed off. She brought the discrepancy to the attention of the Housing Authority's legal counsel, then consulted with the accounting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville to figure out what happened.

Over the past two weeks, it became clear that both Murray and Chief Operating Officer Melonie Bayham were earning more money than their salaries allowed for, combining to earn $75,000 that they should not have received since 2015.

Murray and Bayham spent more than an hour-and-a-half Thursday in a closed-door executive session with members of the Housing Authority board, attorneys and auditors to discuss how the two managed to earn so much extra money and whether they played any part in it happening. The Housing Authority meeting's agenda listed the closed door discussion as Murray's two-year performance evaluation.

Both Murray and Bayham have denied any wrongdoing and cooperated with requests for pay stubs and other documentation, Payton said after the meeting was reopened to the public and then concluded. Reached by phone after the meeting, Murray said he and Bayham are referring all of their comments on the matter to Payton.

Payton said the mistake appears to have been the product of a "legitimate human error" from an employee who no longer works at the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority. When the error first started during 2015, both Murray and Bayham were earning an extra percentage of their base salaries because of their work helping lead the Kenner Housing Authority.

State employees also received 4 percent salary bumps in 2015.

The Housing Authority board and auditors speculate that the former employee added the extra payments to Murray and Bayham's total pay, which already included the extra earnings from Kenner and the pay raise, as opposed to the base pay that it should have been added to.

"From the moment it was brought to their attention, they started researching how the error took place," Payton said about Murray and Bayham.

She said she was not sure what the correct amounts were for Murray and Bayham's base salaries, and that Postlethwaite & Netterville should finalize the documentation of the numbers over the next few weeks.

In addition, the board has asked Postlethwaite & Netterville to outline recommendations and corrective actions to ensure that a similar occurrence can be prevented in the future. Payton said she and the executive team will likely meet with the consultants in the next few weeks about their findings and recommendations, and then they should be presented to the full board at their September meeting.

"We're really trying to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars," she said.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​