Backtracking on the town’s original truculent response to a scathing legislative auditor’s report, Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne and Alderwoman Ruby Gauley said Monday that they will push for passage of ordinances to address some of the issues identified in the report.
In stark contrast to the original 10-page reply to last month’s audit, Monday’s statement was just three short paragraphs.
In it, Gauley and Lavigne promised to make sure the mayor and an alderman sign each check without the use of a stamp or a facsimile, to make deposits daily and to computerize the town’s bookkeeping and bring it in line with “generally accepted accounting principles ... as soon as practical.”
The statement also promises to “normalize” the town clerk’s pay, to create an employee manual and to set up an overnight and weekend recorded phone message “with important information on it.”
The statement noted, as Lavigne’s original letter did in May, that the town has grown significantly over the years and that “it must continue to change with the times and its growth.”
“Sometimes reports that make recommendations are good and necessary, for it focuses our attention on needs we sometimes overlook in our day-to-day rush and we can act and improve accordingly,” Gauley is quoted as saying.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report on Pearl River’s finances in May detailing several items it said were potential violations of state law.
It said Lavigne and Town Clerk Diane Bennett were using town funds to purchase personal items in order to avoid paying sales taxes. Even though the pair reimbursed the town for the purchases, the purchases were still illegal, the report said.
In addition, it said, during 2012 and 2013, Bennett received eight extra paychecks for which the town could produce no documentation, a violation of town ordinance and state law. The report also said town employees had been used to perform services for the mayor and the town clerk and that improper Christmas bonuses had been issued, among other violations.
Monday’s response was a polar opposite to the May 6 letter sent to the legislative auditor by Lavigne and also signed by Police Chief Bennie Raynor and Bennett. That letter began this way:
“Let’s be clear. I am writing this report beginning just after the finest Easter Egg Hunt in Pearl River’s history attended by hundreds of children and co-sponsored by the town of Pearl River and the Steve Fecke family of Jubilee Food Store fame.”
That opening led to a five-page diatribe in which Lavigne accused the activist group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany of targeting the town in an attempt to gain publicity. Helping them, according to the letter, was Alderwoman Katherine Walsh, whom the letter described as a “malcontented polemical person” who wants to run for mayor.
After five pages in this vein, the May 6 letter addressed the specific concerns in the audit, admitting the town’s record keeping could improve.
“I may not be best record-keeper in the world. I am a better welder, inspector, town crew manager and forward-looking town leader,” Lavigne wrote, while promising to do a better job of turning in receipts.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.