Kennedy seeking return of funds

19 groups forwarded to debt recovery unit

Advocate Staff Photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- State Treasurer John Kennedy in 2011.
Advocate Staff Photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- State Treasurer John Kennedy in 2011.

State Treasurer John Kennedy asked the Jindal administration on Thursday to demand $2.1 million in cash or assets from more than a dozen community projects in current and former legislators’ districts.

Among the 19 organizations that Kennedy forwarded to a new state debt recovery unit is a neighborhood group that once employed state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb’s legislative aide. Kennedy also wants Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera to take a look at a foundation that carries the surname of the senator’s husband.

Serenity 67 and the Colomb Foundation Inc. collectively received $450,000 in taxpayer dollars. Kennedy wants to know how the money was spent.

Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, accused Kennedy of seizing upon crumbs that went to the state’s poorest residents.

She said Serenity 67 provided after-school tutoring to at-risk youths and helped elderly residents get to doctors’ appointments. She said it is interesting that Kennedy is chasing the groups while mulling a run for governor.

The senator said the money community organizations once received from the state is pennies compared with the dollars huge businesses get in state-funded economic incentives.

“It is my job to help people in my district who are less fortunate, and I am never going to apologize for that,” Dorsey-Colomb said. “We help big corporations with millions of dollars every day.”

Kennedy declined to specifically respond to Dorsey-Colomb’s inference that his interest in the community groups stems from his political ambitions.

He said he tried for years to get information from the groups and changed tactics when legislators earlier this year created a state debt recovery unit.

“I’m not going to comment on personalities. We have been trying for years ... to get the documentation,” Kennedy said.

“Most of them just totally ignored our request. There wasn’t much I could do about that. But now that the Office of Debt Recovery has been established, I can do something about it.”

The groups are referred to in state government terms as nongovermental organizations.

In flusher times, legislators could insert money in the state operating budget for NGOs that were important to their districts. The appropriations often were derided as pork or slush, but many legislators defended them by arguing they addressed voids in urban or rural areas.

Criticism that NGOs amounted to legislators’ pet projects led to increased paperwork, including budgets, cost reports and the public purpose.

Last month, Kennedy threatened to forward files on 34 NGOs to the new state debt collection unit unless he received the required paperwork.

Kennedy acknowledged the same day, in response to a reporter’s question, that he might run for governor.

Several groups filed the requested paperwork.

The Boys and Girls Club of Natchitoches gained compliance, as did the Treme Community Education Program.

Other groups’ files are now at the state Department of Revenue, which is organizing the debt recovery unit.

“The Attorney General’s Office will bring the debt to final status, meaning that the amount due is no longer in question and there is no further possibility for legal dispute. If an installment agreement is not reached within 60 days, (the Office of Debt Recovery) will move forward on collecting the debt,” said Tim Barfield, the state Revenue Department’s secretary.

Kennedy asked the Legislative Auditor’s Office to give a thorough review of a number of NGOs that submitted information still being sifted by his staff. The Colomb Foundation Inc. falls into that category.

Dorsey-Colomb’s husband, Sterling, helped start the nonprofit organization in 2003 after losing his previous wife to breast cancer and his daughter to a serial killer. The organization raises cancer awareness and provides safety education to women and children.

The Colomb Foundation received $300,000 in state funding several years ago. It lost its federal nonprofit tax status.

Dorsey-Colomb said Thursday that she was friends with her husband for a long time before marrying him two years ago. She said the foundation received no money from the state after their relationship turned romantic.

She said the foundation lost its tax status because of a learning curve on understanding which forms needed to be filed.

She said her husband is working to correct the problem.

Dorsey-Colomb’s aide, Patsy Parker, worked for Serenity 67 and the Colomb Foundation.

Parker’s biggest involvement was with Serenity 67, which dissolved after state funding evaporated.

The senator said Parker started at Serenity 67, joined her legislative staff and never stopped helping Serenity 67.

Dorsey-Colomb said she is proud of the work that Serenity did for a district rampant with crime, teen pregnancies and latchkey children.

She said the organization helped children whose parents did not have the education to help them with their homework.

“Those funds were not slush. One man’s treasure is another man’s garbage,” she said.