Grand Isle fire department spent public funds on unnecessary, possibly illegal purchases, IG report finds _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson parish Inspector General David McClintock.

At least for now, Jefferson Parish President John Young’s administration won’t take away the $40,000 it has said the parish Inspector General’s Office should pay to cover the cost of the 2011 election that led to the agency’s creation.

Young told Parish Council members Wednesday that his staff and Inspector General David McClintock are trying to figure out how much money — if any — the government watchdog’s office owes the parish.

“Everything’s on the table — it could be no fee; it could be a fee,” Young said at the council’s meeting in Grand Isle. “(We) are going to look at figures, look at numbers ... and ... make sure all the facts are out there.”

However, there were suggestions for the first time Wednesday that the parish could also be owed repayment of a $25,000 loan it gave to the board that oversees McClintock’s office and that in 2013 hired him. That loan to the parish’s Ethics and Compliance Commission was meant to help the board search for Jefferson’s first inspector general, officials said; it is separate from the costs of the election four years ago.

As with the election costs, however, the loan to the commission was left unresolved Wednesday.

McClintock last week said $40,268 had been transferred out of the joint account held by the ethics commission and his office, which has an annual budget of about $1.1 million. He objected, saying the administration’s removal of money from his office compromised the financial independence the parish charter meant to provide the inspector general.

The transfer came after the parish told McClintock that it wanted his office to pay Jefferson’s share of the cost of the 2011 referendum that added a millage-funded Inspector General’s Office to parish government.

A measure that would have finalized the transfer of the money away from the inspector general and the ethics commission was on the council’s agenda Wednesday, but it was withdrawn after Young said his staff and McClintock’s office would work to settle the matter.

Nonetheless, the removal of the item did not prevent a lengthy discussion of the issue. Echoing McClintock’s concerns, Councilman Chris Roberts said the whole episode frustrated him, especially because the Inspector General’s Office was created after a corruption scandal sent former Parish President Aaron Broussard to federal prison.

“We took great pride in selling to the public that (the office was) independent,” Roberts said. The attempt to remove money from the IG’s account “suggests the office may not be as independent as we sold it to be.”

Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee said the IG’s Office’s budget would not have been reduced if the cost of the election that created the agency was imposed on it. “It would have been legal,” she said. “This fund incurred expenses.”

Young said he was a Parish Council member at the time the Inspector General’s Office was first proposed and that he supported it.

Finance Director Tim Palmetier, meanwhile, said the administration is developing a protocol so a similar situation would not arise again.

After Young mentioned the $25,000 loan the parish said it gave to the Ethics and Compliance Commission, Parish Councilman Ben Zahn — who has occasionally been at odds with McClintock — said, “(The Inspector General’s Office) may not owe $40,000. But there’s a portion of taxpayer money that needs to go back to the general fund.”

McClintock addressed the council only briefly, saying that the independent nature of his office may mean it can’t be treated as other components of parish government have been in the past.

“This is unique. We don’t fit other departments,” McClintock said. “Chalk it up to another growing pain.”