OPELOUSAS – The St. Landry Parish Council on Wednesday night unanimously approved hiring a firm to perform an annual audit for the parishwide Community Action Agency, whose former director was placed on administrative leave with pay by parish President Bill Fontenot.
Jessie Bellard, the parish’s operations director, said the auditing firm of Darnall, Sikes, Charles and Frederick will conduct the audit. It was originally scheduled to be done July 31.
Bellard said in an interview that the CAA has had audits performed in the past by other firms but that, in Fontenot’s opinion, the previous audits were not done properly and were not satisfactory.
Bellard said he could not provide specific details on Fontenot’s contention, noting that the matter could be subject to litigation. CAA’s former director, Donald Robinson, has told some council members he’s considering filing a civil suit challenging his removal in August as the agency’s director.
Bellard said Fontenot has raised questions about how CAA has spent some state funds.
Fontenot was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Bellard said Robinson was replaced as director by Cynthia Fontenot and Novella Moore, who are acting as CAA’s co-directors. They oversee CAA’s programs such as weatherization, food distribution and monetary assistance with utility bills for those who qualify.
A district judge in Opelousas declared last month that the parish president has the authority to appoint the CAA director. The matter went to court after the council challenged Fontenot’s power to make the appointment.
In a related matter, the council voted to have Fontenot submit to the council a list of the CAA employees, their salaries and positions that have been created and eliminated since Robinson’s removal.
The council, by a vote of 11-1, also approved a $1.37 million construction contract for parish jail improvements. The lone dissenter was Pam Gautreau, who said she still has questions about the way the project is being funded.
Bellard said funding for the project includes $837,000 that remains from a parishwide property tax formerly collected for parish jail maintenance. The revenues from the property tax have remained in what Bellard called a “sinking fund” account that had not yet been spent for jail maintenance.
Bellard told the council other funding for the jail project includes another $100,000 from the jail maintenance fund and another from parishwide video poker revenues.
Progress on the project which began earlier this year has not been impeded by delays, Bellard said.
Bellard said the project includes expanding the jail to include a holding area, more fire exits, renovating bathrooms to facilitate handicapped visitors and inmates, renovating a roof on the jail annex building and repairing several sidewalks on parish jail property.