Morgan City Housing Authority chief studying pay issue

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

State Civil Service staff recently met with Clarence Robinson, interim executive director of the Morgan City Housing Authority, to ensure personnel practices follow civil service rules and gave direction in how to handle what Robinson termed “misappropriated funds.”
The board of commissioners will decide early next year what to do about recouping more than $145,000 in funds paid to three employees and the former executive director Charles Spann, Robinson said.
“The taxpayers will be satisfied once this is complete,” Robinson said.
Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez, Civil Service public information officer, said recoupment of funds is a civil matter and is not the State Civil Service Commission’s responsibility, but is up to the housing authority.
Spann resigned on June 4 after an annual auditor’s report revealed he accepted more than $22,350 in bonuses, which he acknowledged he was not eligible to receive. Additionally, three civil service employees received a total of $123,000 in questioned optional pay. Spann said those bonuses were paid because of a misinterpretation of civil service rules by a manager and the money would have to be repaid.
Civil service rules allow for optional pay of up to 10 percent of an employee’s salary. Spann said he accepted a manager’s interpretation of housing authority policy and civil service rules leading to the payments the auditor questioned.
de Chavez said in an email, “To our knowledge, no complaints or investigations were ever referred to State Civil Service. Also to our knowledge, the Ethics Commission is not involved.”
A copy of an email received through a public records request shows the civil service was made aware of a problem by Victory Ho, housing authority commission chairman, on May 16. Ho’s information “concerning the optional pay your employees received that were in violation of State Civil Service Rules” was said to have been referred to the Accountability Department.
“We are handling your request through our self-reported process … Upon completion of our investigation, your agency will receive a letter from the Director of State Civil Service, Shannon Templet, stating our findings and instructions on how to correct the violations,” the email said.
Ho and Robinson said they have not received a letter. But, Robinson said his recent visit with civil service staff will help the agency stay in line with state rules.
Robinson said he was limited in what he could say and discuss because the situation remains a “matter of an ongoing investigation,” but he did not say who was conducting the investigation.
“Mr. Spann and (office manager) Tori Johnson are no longer with us and they are the ones that had the most important part in the interpretation of civil service policy,” Robinson said.
In October, Ho said officials from the HUD Office of Inspector General assured him the investigation of issues at the housing authority is continuing forward.
Monday he said he was recently contacted by Stephen Ashford of the Office of Inspector General for HUD and told they could not confirm or deny they are conducting an investigation.
The Office of Inspector General would neither confirm nor deny an investigation is ongoing in an email from communications director Marta Metelko this morning to The Daily Review.
Civil service rules require employee evaluations which have not been getting done until now, Robinson said. The agency has five civil servants. Implementing the evaluation process and ensuring those employees are properly classified and paid is one of the things Robinson wants in place before he addresses the board of commissioners on the matter.
“It will be up to the board to decide on how to recover the funds that were misappropriated,” Robinson said. “They will decide what to do to follow through on Mr. Spann and Tori Johnson’s interpretation of the civil service code.”
Spann, who had led the housing authority since 2007, said when recommended bonuses were submitted to him, his name and bonus amount were on the list and he approved all of the payments. The three employees will have to repay the bonus overpayments and he will have to return his bonus, he said then.
“I didn’t follow protocol set by the housing authority in accepting those payments,” Spann said of the bonuses he accepted. “I made a mistake I will pay (the bonus money) back,” he said at the time.
Spann presented a letter in person to the board of commissioners in August requesting payment for unused sick time and vacation time and for working two days past his contract termination.
Ho said Spann had waived vacation time in his contract and after discussions with an attorney he said the board decided not to give Spann the additional pay requested.

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