Audit: Louisiana Road Agency Had Excessive OT, Other Issues

 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — State officials released an audit Thursday that found the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission was clocking hundreds of hours in excessive overtime, misusing thousands of state and federal dollars, allowing unauthorized travel expenses and failing to properly track employee leave.

The audit was released to The Advocate in response to a public records request.

In the audit, the state Department of Public Safety said the commission had an alarming rate of turnover. It also outlined 15 "areas of concern," including a systemic lack of payroll controls and "possible ethics violations" such as commission employees attending the Essence Festival in New Orleans with tickets provided by a state vendor.

State police reviewed the audit and determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges, police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain said.

The commission is part of the Public Safety Department and administers the state's highway safety grant program, which is designed to reduce traffic fatalities.

The department's auditors examined the commission's finances between July 2016 and August 2017. During that time, the commission's executive director was Katara A. Williams, who left to work for the Southern University System. She disputed several of the auditors' findings and in a response to the state asked that some allegations be left out of the final report.

Attorney Ike Spears wrote a response on Williams' behalf that said there were "pervasive issues" at the commission years before her appointment in 2016.

Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed Lisa Freeman to replace Williams in February but did not mention any turmoil within the commission then.

Freeman agreed with the auditors' recommendations and said changes have been made at the commission. She told The Advocate she has used the audit as a "blueprint" to overhaul the agency.

Commission employees have not charged any overtime since her appointment, Freeman said.

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