Auditing firm on EBR Clerk of Court credit card expenses: 'Obviously, we don't look at every document' _lowres

East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn

The East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court's office may no longer be charging taxpayers for hundred-dollar meals at steakhouses and a restaurant with scantily clothed waitresses, but a new audit shows that the office is still lacking financial safeguards.

In 2015, several years' worth of credit statements showed that clerk Doug Welborn and his staff frequently charged meals, travel expenses and retail purchases to taxpayer-funded cards. The office has also been scrutinized for expenses related to a large storage facility, and Welborn is currently defending allegations that he leaned on employees to give money for birthday and Christmas gifts and to his re-election campaign.

The state legislative auditor on Monday released an advisory report about the office. The document is different from a full financial audit but offers glimpses into the clerk's operations.

In total, state auditors found 13 "areas of concern."

They specifically looked at several months of credit card use and "noted no meal expenses ... however, we identified areas where internal controls should be strengthened, including credit card user documentation, segregation of duties, and related administrative functions."

In an interview, Welborn said his staff quit using credit cards to pay for meals in April 2015. The official written response to auditors indicates that the office has winnowed down their number of cards and that purchases must now be approved by "multiple" members of the office's administration.

Several of the auditors' findings indicate that while the clerk's office keeps files on everything from trials to land sales to marriage licenses, it doesn't always record its own business.

For example, the clerk spent $63,661 on an outside accountant in 2015 and 2016 without signing a written contract.

The clerk doesn't have a formal bid process, common for government agencies that want to spend the lowest price for contracted services. For five years the office actually had a deal with an auction house that was supposed to help them solicit bids, "but the Clerk's staff represented to us that the office had not used or received services from the auction house during fiscal year 2016," auditors wrote.

The audit found other deficiencies with the clerk's office -- equipment isn't inventoried, cash was left unsecured during the day and payroll duties are not properly administered.

Auditors found the clerk spent an unspecified amount of money putting his name on drink koozies. They recommended he seek an Attorney General opinion to determine whether that's legal.

Welborn said his office is trying to comply with the findings, and his written response has noted some changes since the auditors' visit, such as changing how payroll is tracked and implementing semi-annual inventories. The deal with the the auction house has been terminated, and his office will be refunded about $6,000, approximately half the amount auditors said he spent with them between 2011 and 2016.

Staff at the clerk's office said they have turned over data for their full annual financial audit and expect it to be published sometime soon.

In October 2015, The Advocate reported that the Clerk's Office's $93,000 in credit card expenses over the previous five years, including nearly $29,000 at restaurants such as Stroube's Seafood and Steaks, Monjunis Italian Restaurant, Acme Oyster House and Twin Peaks, and about $46,000 on lodging, often at casino hotels.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.