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|Auditor: City employees may have broken the law|
A Monroe city employee and his boss may have broken numerous state laws governing the way governments pay employees, according to a report released Monday.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor spent several months looking into payroll irregularities in the City of Monroe department of engineering. During that time, auditors found numerous instances of employees receiving overtime pay for hours that those employees may not have worked.
While the legislative audit notes that several employees received undocumented or under-documented overtime pay, one employee in particular caught the attention of auditors.
Ricardo Nance was paid for more than 660 hours of overtime totaling more $13,000, which city engineer Sinyale Morrison approved--apparently without the proper documentation.
"Ms. Morrison determined a fixed number of overtime hours to pay Mr. Nance each pay period," the audit states. "However, Ms. Morrison did not require Mr. Nance to submit any documentation to validate the number of overtime hours he worked."
Auditors then questioned Nance's coworkers, who disputed that Nance had worked the overtime hours for which he was paid. The city's payroll records verified their claims, according to the legislative audit.
"Since City records and employees indicate Mr. Nance may not have worked the hours for which he was paid, Mr. Nance may have violated state law," the audit states.
Nance was employed by the city's engineering department as a survey party chief, or SPC.
According to the audit, SPCs oversee a crew of men in the proper use of land surveying equipment. And, according to the audit, guidelines are clear for who qualifies to be an SPC.
"The job description in Mr. Nance's personnel file stated that the position required a minimum of three years' surveying experience with duties such as supervise, direct, and train field personnel; run electronic total station/theodolite and engineering level; gather and interpret field notes; and keep clear notes of computation and sketches," the audit states.
At least two former city surveyors were interviewed for the audit. Both men questioned Nance's qualifications to hold the position of SPC.
"According to former City Surveyor Clovis Hailey and former Senior Survey Technician Paul Oxley, a SPC should have at least two to three years of experience as a Survey Rodman, and at least two years as a Survey Instrument Man," the audit states. "However, according to Mr. Nance's applications, his only survey experience was with the City."
That means, according to the legislative auditor, Nance was unqualified to hold the position for which he was ultimately paid more than $53,000.
Indeed, Morrison admitted to auditors that she understood Nance was not eligible for the job.
"Ms. Morrison said she knew Mr. Nance was not qualified, but she hired him based on the recommendation of Mr. Hailey and that Mr. Hailey agreed to train him," the audit states.
Hailey disputed that account and told auditors that, while he agreed to train Nance, Hailey assumed Nance was hired as a rodman. Hailey was unaware Nance was an SPC, according to the audit.
"Since City records and employees indicate Mr. Nance was not qualified at the time he was hired and that he could not and did not perform the duties of SPC, Mr. Nance and Ms. Morrison may have violated state law," the audit states.
The 21-page audit was completed more than a month ago. However, the audit is first delivered to city officials, who are given time to respond.
Because of the allegations of violations of state law contained in the audit, the Legislative Auditor also delivered the audit report to 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones for further evaluation and investigation.
In a letter of response, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo noted the city has already conducted an investigation into the employment situation at the engineering department, including the circumstances surrounding Ricardo Nance.
"Your report, like my findings during my own investigation, was almost identical to the report of David Barnes, Director of Administration for the City of Monroe and Mr. Mike Rhymes, former Human Resource Director for the City of Monroe, in that none of the reports can find with certainty that Ms. Morrison or Ms. Ann Ross committed any illegal act," Mayo writes. "To that end, it is my understanding the District Attorney in Ouachita Parish will investigate to determine whether a criminal act occurred."
Mayo told auditors he would await the outcome of the district attorney's criminal investigation.
Mayo also informed auditors that he has instructed Morrison to address the payroll overtime issues.
Please return to The Ouachita Citizen as this story develops.