Patterson minutes released
PATTERSON, La. — The city’s administration released the first set of more than two and a half years of minutes from City Council meetings Wednesday morning following a public records request from The Daily Review.
The most current minutes, from a Sept. 3 council session, were submitted for publication nearly a week before the law requires.
Mayor Rodney Grogan and City Clerk Pam Washington have said they intend to fully comply with the state’s open records law and publication requirements.
Washington said, “Anything we have not been in compliance with will be corrected.”
Minutes from all the monthly council meetings since the publication of the January 2011 meeting minutes will be submitted for publication in the official journal, as required by law, in the next couple of weeks, Washington said Wednesday.
The city also provided the newspaper with all the records it requested Friday.
The requested records include the minutes from the past two years, 18 months of financial reports, fines collected from Mayor’s Court, travel expenses for the city and the records from the annual community fair.
The records given to the paper show the fair held in June lost $26,388 in 2012 and $19,513 in 2013. The 2012 Mayor’s Gala had a net profit of $3,331, which was deposited in the community center account according to the document the city provided.
The document said that part of the net loss during the 2012 fair was due to the installation of electricity for lighting on the fairground that will also be used by Patterson Junior High and the public.
Grogan said last Sept. 13 he was unaware of the noncompliance issues which the paper had discovered and promised to correct them immediately.
“I was following the protocol of previous administrations,” Grogan said.
Grogan said he was unaware of last year’s audit report that found the minutes have not been published since January 2011.
Grogan, on Thursday, quoted from an old spiritual song and said, “Once I was blind but now I see” and said that while he does not micro-manage, he will ask the council to approve resolutions that provide written policies on a wide range of procedural issues.
Eric Duplantis, 16th Judicial District assistant district attorney, said he spoke Tuesday with city officials to educate them about what is required.
Grogan said the meeting was informative and will lead to changes in the way things are done by the city.
Grogan wants to make sure city policies and practices adhere to the law and the charter, he said.
Grogan said he will bring resolutions to the council on some issues so there can be written policy, including on the use of a car by the mayor or other employee use of city-owned vehicles.
“I don’t micro-manage. But, when something is brought to my attention, I have to zero in on it and correct it,” he said.
Grogan wants things in writing, either through a handbook he said he is preparing, or council resolution or ordinance or the city charter to govern how business takes place in the city, he said.
“We have to get in corrective mode … We can’t change things tomorrow, but we can go and pass resolutions and ordinances,” Grogan said.
Councilman John Rentrop expressed confidence Monday night that the mayor would correct any violations if they exist. “If we have not been abiding by the law or if there is a problem, it will be corrected,” Rentrop said.
The paper has seen repeated violations spanning three mayoral administrations which have been cited in auditors’ reports on the Legislative Auditor’s web page since 2002. For the past 11 years, at least three negative findings of state law and/or charter violations have been cited each year.
The city has not presented an annual finance report in the manner prescribed by the charter in each of the past 11 years. For the past six years there have been auditor citations findings that the city did not presented an annual operating budget 45 days prior to the June 30 ending of the fiscal year.
From 2005 to 2011, the city had six findings about a failure to have monthly bank reconciliations and/or accounting errors. That finding was corrected in the 2012 fiscal year’s audit, the first full year of Grogan’s administration.
For five consecutive years, beginning in 2002, there was a finding of the city not presenting monthly reports to the council, as required by the charter.
The city responded each of those years by saying that computer or accounting software issues and bugs had been the reason for the violations.
There was not a finding by the auditor in the fiscal year 2012 which concluded June 30, 2012, regarding the presentation of monthly financial reports. But that report has not been presented to the council at a public meeting at least since October 2012.
The 2012 audit cited the city for not making written minutes of its public meetings available to the public.
Councilwoman Sandra Turner said “At one point we did have that (written minutes). I don’t recall when we stopped. If I need to refer to anything, there are recordings of the meetings. I can go back to those recordings.”
Rentrop said he kept his own notes during the meeting.
“If I need to research an issue, I go back and look in my files … If there is a problem in how things are being done, it will be corrected,” he said.
Russo, like Turner, could not remember when the practice of providing written minutes stopped.
“In the past we have had minutes and we voted to accept them. That is common parliamentary procedure in any meeting. I would have a problem with anything that is a violation of anything we are supposed to uphold,” Russo said. “I have never had any complaints or questions about that,” he said of the lack of minutes.
Mendoza said, “I don’t consider that a major issue.” Mendoza is the longest serving member of the council.
“If there are any problems, I feel confident they will correct them,” Mendoza said.
Grogan said from this point forward, the council will have minutes in their package for them to vote to accept at each council meeting.
Councilman Charles Sawyer was unable to be reached and did not return calls for a comment.