Folsom mayor takes a ride on taxpayers

When the Folsom Police Department asked for a surplus Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Commission police car a couple of years ago, the commission readily complied.

It’s not unusual for small jurisdictions on either side of the lake to ask for such help, Executive Director Carlton Dufrechou said. And Folsom, population 725, is about as small as they come.

So it came as a surprise to Dufrechou when he got several calls last fall from residents who wanted him to know that the retired police car was being driven by Folsom Mayor Phillip Bickham and not by a law enforcement officer.

Folsom’s use of the donated car was one of several practices criticized in a report commissioned by the state legislative auditor that was released Monday.

The report also found what it described as “numerous” fuel charges related to the vehicle used by the mayor. “We were not able to obtain documentation if the vehicle was being used for Village use or personal use,” the report said. “Furthermore there are not any policies and procedures for employee use of vehicles owned by the Village.”

A part-time employee was also paid, under the direction of Bickham, for hours he did not work, the report said. The employee’s name and the amount of money involved was not disclosed.

The mayor was not the only official singled out in the audit. The sanitation and sewer account of a village alderman, who was not named, was credited for $445, the report said. The report said the amount was described in Folsom’s journals as a disputed charge written off by a CPA.

“However, per discussion with the Village Clerk the account was credited under the direction of the Village Mayor and there was not involvement from a CPA,” it said.

An unnamed alderman also was paid for two meetings he did not attend, the audit said. Folsom’s three aldermen receive $450 a month.

Bickham did not return a call seeking comment Monday. But in responses to the audit, Folsom officials agreed with several of its recommendations.

For example, the audit recommended reviewing minutes of previous meetings to ensure there were no other instances of aldermen being paid for meetings they did not attend. The village agreed to review records dating back to the beginning of the present administration.

But Folsom’s response to other recommendations was less accommodating. For example, the audit recommended that the village conduct a detailed review of fuel charges and ask the mayor to account for his use of the vehicle to determine if the fuel charges were for personal use.

If so, the audit said, the village should recover those costs. The audit also recommended establishing policies and procedures for employee use of village-owned vehicles.

In its response, Folsom simply said that the village had adopted an ordinance outlining the rules for using of village-owned vehicles — without addressing whether it was reviewing the mayor’s charges. When The Advocate asked for a copy of the ordinance, Municipal Clerk Susan Willie said that Bickham would have to provide it.

The village outright rejected the audit’s recommendation that it put in place internal controls to allow for donated vehicles to be used “as per request of the donor or as per the request of donation.”

In its response, Folsom said that it had adopted an ordinance “which provides that the Board of Aldermen will decide how and by whom vehicles are to be used. The donor’s wishes are irrelevant once the donation is executed.”

Dufrechou agreed that the Causeway Commission has no say over what happens to vehicles once they are donated. But he said the commission would have auctioned off the car, bringing in $2,000 to $3,000, if it had not been given to Folsom.

The commission donated the car because Folsom had said it was needed for law enforcement, Dufrechou said, and learning that it was not was “frankly disconcerting to us,” he said.

According to Folsom’s website, Bickham’s top priority “is to operate government with honesty and integrity while being fiscally responsible.” The mayor is also committed to maintaining “an effective and dedicated Village Police Department,” the website says.