(The Center Square) — The Jeanerette City Marshal struggled with financial oversight and reporting in 2021, from a late audit to issues with an automobile allowance to inadequate segregation of duties.
Several of the findings from an independent audit recently released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor continued from prior reviews, and they followed an investigative audit in February 2023 that revealed other significant issues.
Auditors wrote that a failure to design and implement policies and procedures necessary for adequate internal control over finances increased the risk of errors or fraud in fiscal year 2021.
The issue that dates back years is tied to the small size of the department and the cost-benefit of adding personnel necessary to segregate duties, with auditors noting “it may not be feasible to achieve complete segregation of duties.”
The small staff also factored into a finding that “the Marshall lacks adequate staff and the expertise to prepare financial statements” following government accounting practices properly.
Auditors took issue with Marshal Fernest Martin’s automobile allowance, as well. The marshal is paid by the City of Jeanerette and Iberia Parish and the allowance “may be considered a salary supplement which may be violative of statutory provisions,” they wrote.
“We recommend the Marshal discontinue the payment of the automobile allowance and consult with legal counsel and or the Louisiana Attorney General regarding the legality of payments,” the report read.
Other findings centered on actual expenditures in the budget exceeding total budgeted expenditures by more than 5% in potential violation of the Local Government Budget Act, as well as a required audit that came in after the state’s six-month deadline.
The independent audit highlighted an investigative audit published by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in February 2023 that found deputy marshals worked for a private security company while being paid by the marshal and using the department’s vehicles and fuel cards.
The investigative audit also flagged “improper compensation” for Martin totaling $119.639 in overtime and auto allowance payments, improper Christmas bonuses for Martin and other employees, Martin serving as both marshal and police chief and Martin participating in two publicly funded retirement systems.
In a corrective action plan outlined in the most recent audit, management vowed to review financial statements prepared by a contractor closely, and to consult with legal counsel “and, if necessary, discontinue the payment of vehicle allowances unless approved and paid by the City of Jeanerette and or the Iberia Parish Government.”
Management also agreed to “adopt necessary (budget) amendments to ensure compliance with state statute” regarding budget variances in excess of 5% and to ensure annual audits are “submitted to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in accordance with state statute.”