Nice work if you can get it

Albert Simien is a lucky man. He pockets $1,200 a month to transport two Opelousas residents to dialysis treatments on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays — in a city vehicle whose tank is filled by a city-issued Fuelman card.

Paperwork? Heck no.

Simien is not required to present any documentation for his service, indicate who is enrolled in the program or prove that they qualify. There also is no record of the city ever approving the practice.

While the state constitution “allows for welfare to the public,” auditor Dan Daigle says, there must be a documented program in place to provide this type of service. “I think if the parish has a plan that it can show that the person is destitute and can’t afford it, that it’s in the best public interest to expend the funds in this manner for this person, then I think it’s constitutionally permissible. But there must be a plan. You just can’t give money away.” Even with such documentation, Daigle — like most reasonable people — believes $1,200 a month to transport two patients “seems like a lot to pay.”

State auditors questioned this expenditure and exposed other potentially unethical and illegal practices after acting on information the office received about alleged improper use of public funds by the city of Opelousas. The state reviewed available city records for about a three-year period and conducted interviews with employees and other parties. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor posts its audit reports, along with management’s response, online. View independent and legislative audits of the LHA, OHA and city of Opelousas at http://www.lla.state.la.us/. — LT

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