Payments by Orleans coroner at issue in IG report

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans' Inspector General's Office has issued a report critical of the way the Orleans Parish coroner has paid some of its employees and independent contractors, citing one instance where an employee doubled as an independent contractor.

However, the report released late Monday by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux also commends Coroner Frank Minyard for seeking the review of the practices. And it notes that Minyard has been taking steps to improve the way payments are made and documented.

Among the report's findings: Minyard's office paid monthly supplemental payments to some employees and contractors and employees that ranged from $200 to $2,000 per month - payments that weren't authorized by law and that lacked documentation for services performed.

Minyard characterized the payments as incentives and expense reimbursements. He said his office will seek proper city authorization for them and will develop formal policies on such payments. The report said that, in 2012, a doctor providing pathology services for the Coroner's Office was on salary for $147,000 annually as a coroner's employee, and also had a $20,000 contract with the coroner's office, a violation of the state ethics code.

Minyard said the situation arose after one employee's retirement. The result was that one doctor reviewed all cases and assisted in determining causes of death but did not perform autopsies. The autopsy responsibility was then given to another pathologist who was already employed, and who was paid for the additional work.

"By the end of this calendar year, we hope to have successfully created a new employment classification within city government of 'Chief Forensic Pathologist' with appropriate reimbursement for both duties," Minyard wrote. The report also said Orleans coroner employees perform services for other parishes without a cooperative agreement between the local governments. "The Coroner's Office did not separate the hours worked by employees for Orleans Parish functions from the hours worked for the other parishes," it said.

Minyard, in his response, said his office provides services needed by smaller parishes and that the work generates money for the coroner's office. "In the future, we will track the time spent on such out-of-parish cases to document how these services do not affect our primary obligation to the citizens of Orleans Parish," he wrote.

Minyard also said other problems cited in the report have been corrected, including inconsistent coding of payments in ledger accounts and a failure to issue certain tax forms.

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