Contrary to parish policy, Jefferson Parish officials have been giving away surplus vehicles instead of trying to sell them or even appraise how much they are worth, according to a report published Tuesday by parish Inspector General David McClintock.
In all, the IG found, Parish Council members approved the donation of 20 parish vehicles during 2012-14. The vehicles were valued at a total of $255,424; half of them went to the city of Kenner.
Even after Parish President John Young imposed a new policy in May 2014 outlining how surplus vehicles should be dealt with, seven vehicles valued at a total of $37,102 were given away, McClintock’s office found.
Young’s policy stipulated that parish property can be declared surplus or given away only if it has been out of use for six months and there are no plans to put it back in service.
State law allows officials to donate surplus property to agencies that fulfill a public safety function.
The policy also calls for offering surplus property to other parish departments before an auction or donation, and it says the property should undergo an appraisal if no parish department expresses a need for it.
As it turns out, parish departments have not always gotten appraisals or checked to make sure surplus vehicles have been out of use for six months, the IG’s report says.
The report also cites a number of other questionable moves.
For example, Jefferson’s Transit Department purchased a pair of buses for $160,222 “that were not needed or desired by the parish,” the report says. They were purchased with the intention of having them declared surplus and then donated to the towns of Grand Isle and Jean Lafitte, which received the buses in May and June of 2013.
But it wasn’t until April 2014 that the Parish Council adopted a resolution authorizing the donation of the vehicles, and a few more months passed before the so-called “acts of donation” for each bus were notarized.
In its response to McClintock, Young’s administration said the buses were needed at senior centers. Both towns are subject to Jefferson’s property tax for transit operations but do not have fixed bus routes, according to Young’s chief operating officer, Jacques Molaison.
The buses — bought using millage revenue and Federal Transit Administration funds — were purchased under unique circumstances that probably won’t come up again, Molaison said.
McClintock’s review says Jefferson’s ordinances provide guidance only for the sale of parish assets, not for their donation, making effective oversight of such donations difficult. It says the parish also has been donating vehicles without having a way to ensure they are used in compliance with state law.
McClintock suggested that Young’s administration and the Parish Council should work together to establish one set of written criteria for all departments to follow. He also suggested that the parish develop written criteria limiting how surplus vehicles donated by the parish can be used.
Molaison said in his reply to McClintock that the parish administration will review and if necessary revise its policies. The administration is also open to working with the council to create “best practices” policies regarding the sale or donation of surplus parish cars and other property, Molaison said.
The Parish Council has a sometimes contentious relationship with McClintock, and one of its members said it was puzzling that the inspector general chose to take issue with the donation of surplus cars to municipalities in Jefferson.
“Residents of municipalities ... pay taxes to the parish, just as unincorporated residents do,” said Councilman Ben Zahn, whose district includes Kenner. “In fact, most are taxed at both levels of government.”
McClintock said he reviewed the way Jefferson was handling vehicles considered to be surplus at the suggestion of an unnamed local elected official.
An initial draft of the report was provided to the parish in May.