A state agency Thursday stripped control over two federal Homeland Security grant programs from Mayor-President Kip Holden’s office and designated the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Ascension Parish Office of Emergency Management as the new grant managers.
The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said in a news release that it took the action because the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness was “refusing to follow state and federal guidelines in order to be reimbursed for money spent.”
The action means that “funding in the amount of $4,033,033 from two federal Homeland Security grant programs will be redirected to the new parish grant managers,” according to the GOHSEP release.
The $4 million represents federal grant funds for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and a grant for fiscal year 2011 that has not yet been awarded, said GOHSEP Deputy Director Clayton Rives.
He said the city-parish will need to find another funding source or work with the sheriff to get reimbursed for some Homeland Security-related items or services that have already been purchased.
Holden, his chief administrative officer, John Carpenter, and MOHSEP Director JoAnne Moreau did not respond to emails and telephone requests for comment on GOHSEP’s action Thursday.
The long-running grant dispute revolves around a GOHSEP requirement that the sheriff of each parish review and sign off on applications to receive federal Homeland Security money that is awarded to the state.
Holden has argued that GOHSEP lacks the legal authority to impose such a requirement.
Federal Homeland Security funds are awarded to the state, which in turn apportions grants to Louisiana parishes based on population and various risk factors.
GOHSEP Interim Director Pat Santos noted that every other parish in Louisiana, except for East Baton Rouge Parish, has complied with federal and state guidelines for receiving grant funds.
He said the agency has tried for three years to get the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security to comply with federal and state laws, regulations and guidelines.
“GOHSEP’s actions are consistent with federal rules and this move protects the state from risking a federal audit finding concerning the program,” Santos said.
GOHSEP cited several deficiencies in the way that the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security was handling the grants, including failing to obtain pre-approval before spending money on a Homeland Security project.
GOHSEP placed the office on probation for two years before it can reapply for federal grants.
The Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security had been managing both of the Homeland Security grant programs that are at issue.
One is a State Homeland Security Program grant that goes to the parish; the other is an Urban Area Security Initiative grant that is awarded for programs serving the eight-parish region.
GOHSEP designated the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office as grants manager for both grant programs, while any future multi-parish projects using the regional grant will be coordinated through the Ascension Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Thursday that he plans to “bring everybody to the table” to make sure Homeland Security funds are spent in the most effective way possible.
“This isn’t what I wanted. I’ve got enough to do, but I’m willing to accept this responsibility,” Gautreaux said.
He said the dispute has never been a power issue for him. He said he understood all along that control over how the grants are administered rests with GOHSEP — not him or Holden.
“It’s very unfortunate that, for whatever reason, the mayor decided not to follow the procedures set by GOHSEP,” Gautreaux said.
He added, “I think it speaks volumes that every other parish has complied. It’s unfortunate that he [Holden] chose this path.”
The grant dispute could put a strain on a city-parish budget that is already stretched thin because the city-parish might not be eligible to receive reimbursement for some Homeland Security expenditures that it has already made.
As of mid-April, the city-parish had spent $1.2 million for Homeland Security purposes that it expected to receive reimbursements for from the fiscal year 2009 and 2010 grants, according to records released earlier this year.
The records showed $769,063 under one grant and $423,942 was spent from another for police helicopter equipment, patrol bikes, video conferencing equipment, Apple iPads, staff salaries and benefits, mobile phone chargers and other items.
Rives said the city-parish never made the proper application to accept the grant awards for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
Meanwhile, he said, GOHSEP has discovered problems with some of the city-parish’s reimbursement claims under two Homeland Security grants for fiscal year 2008.
The city-parish will not be reimbursed for $362,784 under the fiscal year 2008 grants, Rives said, because some expenses failed to comply with program rules and other requests exceeded the amount of money that was available from the grants.
Rives said GOHSEP would have to decide reimbursement requests from fiscal years 2009 and 2010 on a case-by-case basis since anything purchased so far has not received the required pre-approval of GOHSEP.
Gautreaux said that if money the city-parish has already spent or committed “fits the criteria allowable under the grants, I’m certainly not going to fight that.”
He said it would be up to the mayor and Metro Council to address any budget shortfall issues that arise if the city-parish does not receive the expected reimbursements from GOHSEP.
Councilman Chandler Loupe said the “mayor’s going to have to answer these questions and come up with the money. It’s very disappointing.”