Clerk of court responds to scathing auditor's report - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Clerk of court responds to scathing auditor's report

Sabrina Wilson FOX 8 Sabrina Wilson FOX 8

When elections are held in Orleans Parish, Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell oversees them. Now the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report slams Morrell’s office over its handling of public funds and office credit cards.

One finding says between February 2010 through March 2014, the office appears to have received reimbursements of $386,583 from the Secretary of State’s Office related to elections without following proper procedures:

--$120,168 for wages and benefits paid to office employees at rates higher than their regular rates without an election pay policy on file;

--$213,146 for temporary election workers that were not pre-authorized;

--and $53, 269 for non-payroll election expenses that were not pre-authorized.

"This is not an allegation where any of the money was wrongfully used in the sense that it was converted to anybody's personal use. We were able to verify the money was actually paid to the employees who were doing the work,” Assistant Legislative Auditor Roger Harris said.

Auditors also said Morrell and his staff engaged in improper use of office credit cards. The report said records indicate that Morrell incurred at least 34 personal charges totaling $7,184. Morrell has since reimbursed the clerk’s office.

Also, auditors said there was inadequate documentation for credit card purchases made by the office totaling $6,406 for 98 charges.

"What we found in a number of these cases was either that they only had a credit card authorization, not the receipt that actually broke down what was purchased, or in some cases they had nothing at all, other than a credit statement which was actually paid,” said Harris.

Morrell’s office is also accused of using $78,000 in public funds for celebratory functions and meals, donations to non-profit organizations, and gifts to employees and others that may have violated the state Constitution.

"You need to make sure that whatever you're doing meets the requirements of the law before you end up spending money on things like Christmas parties, or things of that sort," Harris said.

In a letter to the auditors containing Morrell’s point-by-point responses, the clerk said he has never received reimbursements for excessive wages paid to employees, and Morrell said the Secretary of State never informed him that the amount the office paid employees was excessive.

As for the celebratory functions, Morrell wrote that one purpose of the activities was to build the spirits and camaraderie of employees. He said the office was understaffed and underfunded.

Morrell issued the following statement Monday:

“I appreciate the hard work of the Legislative Auditor and the Secretary of State in ensuring that all public funds are properly spent and accounted for. This audit request has been brought during a period of time when the Clerk of Criminal Court's office has been severely understaffed and underfunded. 

"This audit was conducted at the request of Secretary of State Tom Schedler regarding pre-approval of Election Day payroll expenses.

"This clerk’s office has followed the same Election Day payroll policies that all my former clerks used.  Not until 2014 did the Secretary of State inform me that we needed pre-approval of the pay scale for Election Day workers and we have complied with that request.   The pay scale we use today is the same pay scale that existed before I took office over ten years ago.

"Concerning the lack of receipts for expenditures, the Clerk of Criminal Court is only required to retain three years of receipts.  The state auditor requested receipts as far back as ten years and my office did its best to comply with his request. Regardless, the Clerk's office was able to recover and provide receipts for over 98% of the expenditures in question for the aforementioned ten-year period.

"The Clerk of Criminal Court's office has been audited every year since 2006, pursuant to state law and there were no questions concerning the audits.  This office will incorporate suggestions and recommendations of the Legislative Auditor's office into our office policies as well as future audits.

"My staff and I have served the public well for a decade and will continue to operate with full transparency and accountability.”

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