A legislative auditor’s report citing Denham Springs’ Wastewater Department with possible constitutional and ethics violations has prompted city officials to rethink the way they loan equipment and manpower to other agencies in the parish.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor found, in a report released Monday, that Denham Springs had loaned out its vacuum truck and a licensed operator to two parish sewer districts, Walker and the town of Livingston, without reimbursement or even documentation of each use.
Loaning or donating public assets to another entity, whether public or private, violates the Louisiana Constitution.
Mayor Gerard Landry said Tuesday that the municipalities and other agencies in the parish have been loaning each other equipment for years to avoid each agency having to buy expensive machinery they will use only rarely.
“That vacuum truck costs about $200,000, but Walker has some expensive asphalt equipment that we could use,” Landry said. “It’s been a longstanding system that Denham Springs, Walker, Livingston and the sewer districts have always exchanged equipment instead of duplicating purchases. Everyone was in agreement that it was for the benefit of us all.”
But that agreement was not put in writing, according to the auditor’s report.
“There has to be some way of documenting the fact that you’re getting something of equal value when you do something for another entity,” said Roger Harris, assistant legislative auditor and director of the investigative audit division.
Landry said the city will adopt new policies likely incorporating rates set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to document the value of equipment and manpower loaned to other agencies. But he was unsure whether the city would bill the agencies for each use or keep running tallies of the values given and received, with an equalizing payment at the end of each year.
Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey said requiring the municipalities to bill each other could put smaller communities at a disadvantage, particularly during emergency situations.
“We have eight backup generators that we have offered to other municipalities if they need them during an emergency,” Ramsey said. “Now we’re supposed to have them write us a check before we send a generator? This is not good. It takes away the ability to work with each other.”
Livingston Mayor Derral Jones said his town has loaned equipment to other agencies and “not kept up with it” or required those agencies to pay. He thought the parish and its municipalities had all signed an agreement to that effect.
“We have loaned to other people, and we’ve been the recipient of loans,” Jones said. “If we need to start paying, it won’t break the budget, but it just makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
In a related finding, the auditors said Wastewater Department Supervisor B.J. Clark may have violated state ethics rules when his company, GRC Construction, held a grass-cutting contract for the two sewer districts while his city department loaned them the vacuum truck.
In a written response to the report, Clark said he “did not authorize the use of equipment by any other agency, and therefore do not feel that I violated any ethical rules.”
Clark said he would cooperate with any investigation into the matter by the State Board of Ethics, however, and would make any changes they recommend.
Jaimie Fontenot, manager of the sewer districts, said the districts sought quotes for grass-cutting services, and Clark’s company provided the lowest quote of the three received.
In a third, unrelated finding, auditors said the salary Landry is receiving matches what the City Council approved in its budget and employee pay raise ordinances.
Councilman Chris Davis had filed the complaint about Landry’s pay amid appeal hearings for former Police Chief Scott Jones, whom Landry fired over the handling of a domestic violence complaint involving Davis.
Former Denham Springs Police Chief Scott Jones has asked a state court judge to overturn the…