State stepping in to address Clarence financials

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Mayor Tommy Evans unofficially resigns; Legislative Auditor holds hearing

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

Clarence Mayor Tommy Evans did not show up for his court date in Judge Lala Sylvester’s courtroom Wednesday, Jan. 9.

District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington said in his opening statement that the Secretary of State had contacted his office stating Evans had submitted a letter of resignation, however Harrington said the letter has not been confirmed. The case against Evans, as mayor, was passed without refixing pending confirmation. This means the matter is continued without a set date.

Evans also did not appear Monday, Jan. 7 in Baton Rouge to the La. House of Representatives for a fiscal review committee hearing concerning the Village of Clarence financials and administration.

Clarence Mayor Tommy Evans submitted a letter of resignation to the Secretary of State, however the letter was not notarized rendering it unofficial.

During the review, presided over by Chairman, and state auditor Daryl G. Purpera, Bradley Cryer, Director of Local Government with the Legislative Auditor’s office, he stated his office had been working with the mayor, council, police chief and town clerk for two and one-half years to try to resolve compliance issues and disputes among elected officials. “Our understanding is…the mayor has resigned. We contacted the Secretary of State. They have confirmed they did receive the letter but it was not notarized so that resignation is unofficial,” Cryer said.

He said the Village did not have revenue to pay bills and had not submitted annual financials for two years, 2017 and 2018. “According to the Dec. 31 bank statement, the Village had $14,000 in cash in its general, water and sewer fund accounts. And approximately $68,000 in debt broken down as follows, $27,766 to City of Natchitoches (for water bills)…$15,100 in penalties to Dept. of Health for sewer system violations, roughly $4,000 in fees owed to the auditor for 2016, $4,000 reimbursement to the Dept. of Workforce Development for unemployment benefit payments, including penalties and interest, $6,600 to Village Police Chief for salary for 11 months, $5,000 to the three aldermen for 13, 11 and 1 month respectively…and to the La. Dept. of Revenue at least $5,600 had not been paid. The clerk acknowledges they have not paid any taxes to the Federal Government, IRS, for the calendar year 2018.”

He said an unknown amount is needed to get the water and sewer services up to code. He also said a review of November and December bank statements revealed there is no evidence the Village made its final payment on a USDA loan in the amount of $8,334. Cryer listed numerous violations set forth by LDA and DEQ with water and sewer systems as well as a general lack of accountability. In addition, the City of Natchitoches has threatened to cut off water for nonpayment.

During a discussion of payments, Cryer stated there was evidence of a check issued in the amount of $1,300 to Evans on his last day in office and a $5,000 check issued to the clerk at the end of December. Purpera summarized the situation stating, “During this time period where these other individuals were not being paid, the mayor and clerk were being paid, however the Dept. of Revenue and the IRS is not being paid for the withholdings.” It was noted security is provided by the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Department following the mayor’s “shutdown” of the Clarence Police Dept.

Committee member and former interim La. State Treasurer Ron Henson, inset, listens as Wayne Slater, senior environmental scientist with DEQ, enforcement section, seated at right, outlines the violations and problems with the Clarence water and sewer systems. Alderwomen Tamala Chatman, Irma Anthony and Doris Singleton, and Earther Hall, Chief of Police, seated behind Slater, attended the hearing.

Sen. Gerald Long testified the Dollar General store was creating revenue and the residents were paying their water bills. “I have been working on this several, several years. It has been an absence of leadership. There is enough revenue if managed properly.”

Cryer said the last reported revenue from 2016 was $185,000 general fund and proprietary revenue of $130,000. There was over $100,000 shortfall overall that year. Alderwoman

Tamela Chapman addressed the committee. “We need help. The only reason why we’re not able to pay the bills is because the mayor created jobs. He was the only one on the bank account. He created three secretaries … at one time all making $11 an hour. They didn’t clock in but the payments still came. That hurt us,” she said. “He was treating the water himself. We had an operator but he fired the operator. The citizens are paying their water bills. We have 66 of 214 people that are paying their bill. A large portion is not paying their bills.” She stated her meter had not been read in six months and she was billed a base rate.

“We got a grant for the water meters and he took that and put it on the roof. The sewer hasn’t worked since 2016 and I reported that to him. We don’t have council meetings. The clerk has resigned three times but her check keeps flowing,” she said. She stated one employee works approximately 10 hours every other week but is paid as a full time employee. She stated Evans has unofficially resigned, but is still writing checks. “He passed out checks Friday.”

Purpera said, “This committee…is charged to review the financial situation. If we are unanimously in favor of appointing a fiscal administrator, then we’re going to ask (Committee member and Chief Deputy Attorney General Wilbur “Bill” Stiles) to go to the court and have the court appoint a fiscal administrator. That person would …by law have the authority to run the village. That person takes over for the mayor …and the council. The mayor and council become advisors to the administrator. That person has broad authority to correct the problems, to change what needs to be changed. That means personnel, might mean contracts, that might be sewer rates, water rates…whatever it takes to get the Village back to being an accountable entity. When that is accomplished, then the court removes the person and hands the Village back over to the elected officers. Is the board in favor of a fiscal administrator?”

“We are for what’s best for the citizens,” Chapman said.

Committee member and former interim La. State Treasurer Ron Henson explained there would be a cost for the fiscal administrator. “The town would be expected to pay for those costs. The administrator would develop a budget with you….to get you moving forward to solve your problems. The administrator will have the authority to remove any obstacles.”

Wayne Slater, senior environmental scientist with DEQ, enforcement section, said his department has issues with the operations in as well. “They have a lift station that is not operating. It is going into … Bayou Bourbeaux.” He said the lift station should discharge into Red River as permitted. “It gets septic,” he said. He provided a checklist of problems with the wastewater. An estimated cost is $38,000 to repair the lift station. He said they had not heard from City Hall regarding the “major issues and minor paperwork problems.”

Purpera moved that the Village of Clarence be placed under the influence of a fiscal administrator that was unanimously approved. The process will move forward.

To view the complete video of the hearing visit http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2019/jan/0107_19_FiscalReview.