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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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Councilman questions Community Action travel authorization

Councilman questions Community Action travel authorization

A question was raised at last Tuesday’s Parish Council meeting by Councilman Jerry Lafont regarding travel authorization for Community Action (CA) board members, staff and one council member to attend a convention in Texas.

The Community Action Partnership Annual Convention, held this year in Austin in late August, offers necessary orientation, policy/procedure, and expertise training for CA board and staff members.

Several Lafourche CA members have registered for the event.

Their approval to travel and attend the event was signed by Parish Administrator Don Matherne, but Lafont says it should have come before the full council.

According to Lafont, attendees this year are Councilman Jerry Jones, Lafourche Community Action Executive Director Freddia Ruffin-Roberson, Advisory Board members Richmond Boyd and Larry White, and Resource Coordinator Nanette Lazard.

An additional staff member who was originally scheduled to attend will not go, he said.

In the 2016 parish budget, travel was set at $10,000 for Community Action. The Austin trip will cost about $9100, said Jones.

Lafont balked at the necessity of sending all these people to the convention as well as the fact that the travel approval did not go through the proper channels.

“We met with the state and they said Community Action is an advisory board only. They have to come before the Council to get approval for all travel. And I don’t see, with lowest employment rate in 20 years, why do we need to send so many,” said Lafont.

“Last year we spent $28,000 to send 10 people to the convention (in San Francisco). It’s disheartening to know we spent that to send so many people. And we have a person going this year who went last year, too,” Lafont continued.

“We (Council members) have $18,000 in the budget for travel, and we all agreed not to travel to save money,” he said.

Jones responded that some training offered at the Austin convention is required for CA members.

“Orientation training is required within the first six months, and policy and procedures training must be attained within two years for any CA member,” he said.

“Last year we had a lot of new people who needed training. They had six months to get orientation. The $10,000 budgeted for travel (this year) is for the 2015 CSBG (Community Services Block Grant) contract which finishes in September. We lose the money and it goes to other parishes if we don’t spend it. If you are not abiding by the contract, then you stand a chance of losing the contract. You need to understand how CSBG works,” Jones continued.

Some questions were raised by other councilmen regarding whether leftover money budgeted for travel could be spent elsewhere.

District 6 Councilman Corey Perrillioux asked: “If that amount of money is not used for travel, could it be used for the community?”

“Can the Director move money into different areas? Can we send fewer people and spend the money elsewhere, like on uniform vouchers or utility bills?” asked Michael Gros of District 3.

Former CA Director Denise Hughes, called upon to answer, said board members have to be trained, but the unused travel money could be spent in other areas.

And when asked if she was in favor of sending fewer people to the convention, Hughes replied: “Yes, especially when so many people need services here.”

“It’s a crying shame that all these people are going on this trip,” said Lafont.