Housing authority bonuses topped $200,000

Documents obtained through public record requests reveal four Morgan City Housing Authority employees were paid a total of $208,739 in bonuses over an 18-month period, exceeding the $175,000 total labor cost for 12 months of ordinary maintenance.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

Documents obtained through public record requests reveal four Morgan City Housing Authority employees were paid a total of $208,739 in bonuses over an 18-month period, exceeding the $175,000 total labor cost for 12 months of ordinary maintenance.
Three office workers received $186,388 in bonuses and former Executive Director Charles Spann got $22,351. The bonuses are nearly 25 percent of the $840,000 total tenant revenue reported in the audit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013.
The bonuses were paid under the administration of Spann who resigned on June 4, 2013, after admitting he took bonuses he was not entitled and approved excessive bonuses to the three office workers.
According to a document delivered by housing authority attorney Robert Duffy, the last bonus shown in the audit released Monday was disbursed to the three office workers March 1, 2013, after having bonuses given them less than two months before on Jan. 8, 2013. Before that the three received bonuses on Nov. 15, 2012.
From Nov. 15, 2012, to March 1, 2013, the three office workers were given $48,913 in bonuses besides their salaries.
During those four months:
—Sandra Greene, public housing manager, received $19,721 in bonuses (a total of $76,098 in 18 months);
—Diana Pace, accountant, received $16,394 (a total of $63,307 in 18 months) and;
—Tori Johnson, no longer employed by the housing authority, received $12,798 (a total of $46,983 in 18 months).
The 2012 salaries shown in a document associated with the 2012-13 fiscal year audit were $57,831 for Greene, $48,131 for Pace and $37,881 for Johnson.
Civil service rules limit bonuses, which are termed rewards and recognition, to 10 percent of salaries when employees meet certain established program requirements approved by the Civil Service Commission.
Commission Chairman Victory Ho said Spann was not allowed to have bonuses without direct approval of the commission, which was never given.
Spann, who led the housing authority since 2007, said before his resignation that the three employees would have to repay bonus overpayments and he would have to return all his bonus.
The Berwick Housing Authority allowed the Morgan City entity to share its executive director, Clarence Robinson, who took over the reins in Morgan City on Aug. 1, 2013. None of the bonuses cited in the last two audits were paid during the time Robinson was in charge.
The Daily Review requested details of the bonuses in a public record request sent to the housing authority Monday. Duffy delivered the information to the newspaper Wednesday.
The housing authority had a reward program approved by the Louisiana Civil Service Commission on Dec. 14, 2007, for employees who contribute to removing the agency from “troubled status.” That program capped awards at 10 percent of the employee’s annual salary, depending on available funding, according to documents provided by Duffy.
A nomination for an award should include a complete description as to why the award was merited, the document states. The Daily Review requested a copy of any such documentation. Duffy said such written documentation does not appear to exist.
The reward policy provided by Duffy states that it is effective Nov. 18, 2007, yet, inside the policy it stated that the award period is from July 1, 2006, to Nov. 6, 2007. No explanation is available as to why there is an apparent conflict in dates. No other award policy was provided to the newspaper
Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez, public information director of the Louisiana State Civil Service, said in an email, “There are no penalties imposed by State Civil Service for overpayment. Recoupment of funds is done at the agency level. The State Civil Service Commission does not have the authority to rule on recoupment issues.”
Ho said it is his intent to see to it that bonus money is returned.
Robinson said in earlier interviews that civil service workers are protected by due process requirements and to date no criminal wrongdoing has been proven. He is allowing law enforcement authorities to investigate while he is focused on repairing units and getting them online for people that need public housing.
Auditor Daniel McCaskill said in his audit, “the matter was previously referred to the HUD Office of Inspector General as well as the Morgan City Police Department for consideration.”
Morgan City Police Capt. Mark Griffin Jr. said detectives from Morgan City police are in the early stages of an investigation regarding issues in the housing authority but would not supply details.
Ho and Robinson said in the past that the question of the bonuses was turned over to the Office of Inspector General. A spokesperson for the federal agency declined to tell The Daily Review whether or not an investigation is ongoing, which she said was the typical response to media inquiries.
Duffy said he has been unable to get the federal agency to confirm an investigation either, much less share with him its status.
The 2013 fiscal year audit report said bonuses paid to staff appear to be based on calculations not in compliance with housing authority policies and the policy was not approved by the State Civil Service Commission.
Eight other, non-office employees were given bonuses on Nov. 11, 2013, that averaged $921 but did not share in the bonuses the three office workers received in January and March of 2013.
The auditor questioned all $56,285 bonuses paid in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 as they “were not properly approved by the board of commissioners and were in violation of federal and state laws and regulations. Bonus calculations were based on policies not approved by the board of commissioners,” the audit stated. He “recommended no future bonuses be considered until the housing authority reports a balance healthy enough to support future operations.”
The report went so far as to recommend “all staff salary levels be reconsidered based on the financial health of MCHA at this time. It may be that current salary levels have, over time, become distorted and should be adjusted to the realistic value of the services performed by each staff member.”

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