Auditor levels parting shot at former St. Tammany Parish assessor

Patricia Core rapped in 6 areas of concern

Former St. Tammany Parish Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core left office at the end of 2012, but the state Legislative Auditor’s Office issued a critical report this week faulting the office during her tenure for failing to keep track of employee hours and not documenting gasoline credit card use.

It was not the first time the Legislative Auditor’s Office blasted Core’s financial management.

This audit found that an employee was given six weeks of paid maternity leave without having first exhausted sick leave and annual leave. The Assessor’s Office also failed to reconcile its ledger in a timely manner, did not perform an annual inventory of capital assets and failed to solicit bids in choosing its fiscal agent.

The audit, performed by the accounting firm LaPorte for the legislative auditor, covers Core’s final year in office and found six areas of concern. In five of those instances, the cause is listed as “prior management oversight.’’ In the case of the employee given paid maternity leave, the cause is labeled “unknown.’’

Louis Fitzmorris took office as assessor Jan. 1. His management response to the audit report notes that each problem was discovered during policy and procedure reviews by his incoming administration, which pointed them out to the auditors. The management response also says each problem has been addressed.

Core, who had not seen the audit, said Monday that 2012 was a reassessment year and that her staff worked tirelessly, putting in many hours of overtime for which they were not paid.

She said that it isn’t true that her employees did not keep time sheets or that gas expenditures were not tracked. She said the employee who handled bookkeeping for her was meticulous in keeping records. The employee who took maternity leave was not given time off to which she was not entitled, Core said.

She blamed the critical audit on Fitzmorris, who unseated her in the 2011 election. State law mandates a long transition period for newly elected assessors, so Fitzmorris has only been in office eight months.

“We ran that office just like it should have been done,’’ she said. “I don’t know what his problem is.’’

The audit report singled out three issues in 2012 that create a “material weakness,’’ defined as a deficiency or combination of deficiencies that make it reasonably possible a misstatement will not be prevented, detected or corrected in a timely manner.

The material weaknesses identified are the failure to reconcile the ledger and the lack of documentation for employee work hours and fuel card use.

In the case of employee time records, the audit report notes that payroll is the office’s single greatest expenditure, but employees were not required to document actual hours worked by either clocking in or filling out time sheets — and that included tracking vacation and sick leave. Employees are allowed to carry forward unused annual leave and sick leave and, upon leaving employment, are paid out any unused annual leave.

The new administration responded that it is now tracking employee hours, as well as fuel card use, and has implemented procedures for reconciling the ledger.

The legislative auditor had previously blasted Core’s office for nearly $36,000 in credit card charges for meals, $18,085 of which was not properly documented. In 11 cases, employees who had already received a per diem meal expense also charged meals on their office credit card. Core also was criticized for $1,825 in personal charges, including airline tickets for spouses and retirement gifts.

The current audit refers to those issues as partially resolved, noting the 2012 findings concerning fuel charges and the fact that an employee charged $65 for a spouse’s ticket to a banquet that was not reimbursed.