Passing up a good meal is hard in south Louisiana, and it can be even harder when someone else is picking up the tab.
Just ask East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn, whose office spent more than $25,000 on restaurants last year. That’s according to the Legislative Auditor’s Office, which has turned its findings over to East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
It’s up to Moore — and, perhaps ultimately, a jury — to determine if the spending in question amounts to a criminal offense. In the court of public opinion, though, the verdict should already be clear. Clerk of court staffers dined lavishly on the public dime while Welborn’s agency was running a $1.3 million deficit.
If this seems like screwy fiscal stewardship, then little wonder. Keeping track of public money, apparently, isn’t Welborn’s strong suit.
The audit also found that Welborn’s office couldn’t locate 86 receipts that accounted for $8,224 in purchases last year. According to the audit, Welborn said he’s recouped most spending that couldn’t be documented by asking the cardholder who made the purchases in question to reimburse the agency.
The Clerk’s Office had seven credit cards being used by employees last year, an invitation to abuse. The office’s number of credit cards has since dropped to two, and Welborn recently laid off 12 employees to address his agency’s red ink. Welborn said he’s eliminated “virtually all meal-related business meetings.”
At the very least, the new policy should help limit employee distractions. Among the eateries visited by the Clerk of Court’s Office: the Hollywood Casino buffet and Twin Peaks, a restaurant chain known for its amply endowed, scantily-clad waitresses.
Faced with a flurry of questions about his office’s finances, Welborn is talking up the virtues of reform, but it’s all a bit late given his long record of what-the-heck management.
An Advocate investigation revealed his office has routinely spent tens of thousands of public dollars annually on meals, hotel rooms, storage space and other dubious expenses.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office said last year that the state’s Inspector General’s Office, which probes white-collar crime and public corruption, was looking into Welborn’s spending, too.
Whether any of this will land Welborn and his cronies behind bars is hard to say. But Welborn can take comfort in knowing that prisons offer three meals a day, all courtesy of the public.