Since Charles Preston took over the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office about a year ago, he has earned praise for cleaning up the mess left by former Coroner Peter Galvan, who is serving a two-year sentence in federal prison for stealing from taxpayers.
But according to an audit published Monday by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, some issues remain at the office. The audit, prepared by the firm of Carr, Riggs and Ingram and covering calendar year 2014, identifies one violation of state law and three areas where the office ran afoul of government accounting principles.
The first issue already has been corrected and the other three are being addressed, Preston said Monday.
According to the audit, the office was breaking the law by owning the building and land on La. 434 near Lacombe on which the office sits. State law prohibits the Coroner’s Office from owning or buying immovable property, and the audit says the building and land should have been transferred to the parish within six months of June 7, 2013.
That had not happened by the end of 2014, but just over two weeks later, ownership of the building and land was transferred, the audit notes.
The audit also says the Coroner’s Office had several “stale” bills that were more than a year old. The majority of those are bills owed to the office by the city of New Orleans, Preston said. The bills total more than $50,000 and are for coroner emergency certificates, he said.
Such certificates are issued when a person is admitted on an emergency basis to a mental treatment facility in the parish. Within 72 hours, that person must be examined by the coroner or his deputy. Each exam costs $100, Preston said.
Brad Howard, a spokesman for New Orleans City Hall, said it was only informed about the outstanding bills a month or so ago, and it is working with the St. Tammany Coroner’s Office “to fully resolve these bills, as well as amounts owed to the city for similar services.”
The audit also says the Coroner’s Office did not have a disaster recovery plan, a problem noted in previous audits.
Although Preston said many of the disaster-related elements cited by the auditors — specifically offsite storage of electronic data — were in place, he admitted the Coroner’s Office does not have a specific plan to deal with a disaster. He said he plans to meet with department heads this week and hopes to have a plan ready in 60 days.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter @faimon.