Treasurer wants details on spending

State Treasurer John Kennedy threatened Monday to forward files on 36 community groups, including one with ties to a state legislator, to a new state debt collection unit.

The groups on Kennedy’s list include a New Orleans area housing organization, a Baton Rouge social club, an alumni association, a health care center and an organization affiliated with a Boy Scouts troop.

Kennedy said the groups either ignored or failed to fully comply with requests for details on how $4.5 million in taxpayer money was spent. He said certified letters and emails have been sent and personal calls have been made for years to the groups without resolution.

“I’m going to send them another letter and give them 10 days, maybe longer. This is taxpayer money,” Kennedy told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Kennedy said the organizations need to submit the information or repay the money in full to the newly created Office of Debt Recovery, which is supposed to ramp up efforts to collect money owed to state government.

What Kennedy wants are progress reports, comprehensive budgets and canceled checks tracing the use of the money.

The reporting requirements stem from efforts to get a better handle on community organizations that often are important to individual legislators’ districts.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a prepared statement that the organizations need to be in compliance.

Among the delinquent organizations on Kennedy’s list is The Colomb Foundation, an organization with ties to the husband of state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb.

Kennedy wants to know how the foundation spent $300,000 in state funding.

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 education on the safety of women and children.

“The only thing I can do is look into it and see what he’s talking about,” Dorsey-Colomb said Monday after the foundation appeared on Kennedy’s list.

Dorsey-Colomb said her husband volunteers his time to the foundation, which she said has not received state dollars in years. As far as she knows, she said, the foundation is in compliance with state requirements.

“I’m thrown aback by the whole situation,” Dorsey-Colomb said.

Wilbert Thomas Sr., chief executive officer of the Desire Community Housing Corp., said he also was surprised to see his organization on Kennedy’s list.

The treasurer’s office said a letter and an email were sent to Desire about $100,000 in state funds.

The New Orleans organization counsels homeowners facing foreclosure in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.

Thomas said Desire already sent an email to the treasurer’s office with the information requested. He said the organization cannot afford to repay the money.

“We’d have to close down, and it’s a nonprofit organization. We don’t have that kind of money lying around,” Thomas said.

Kennedy lists 12th Ward Save Our Community Organization Inc. as needing to supply information on how $520,000 was spent. The phone number for the organization is disconnected. Treme Community Education Program Inc., listed as receiving $325,000 in state funding, also does not appear to have a working number.

Ike Thomas, president of the Purple Circle Social Club, said Kennedy can easily get the information he needs on his organization. The club, which is near downtown Baton Rouge, is an active organization that serves as a community gathering place.

“If they need something, they can come over,” Thomas said, adding that he received no correspondence from Kennedy’s office on the $50,000 his group got.