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Sunday, June 16, 2019

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Lafourche Parish Council Getting It Done

Lafourche Parish Council Getting It Done

One of the problems with Lafourche Parish’s acceptance of State money to fund its low-income assistance programs is the red tape that goes along with it.

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Fund is one of those state programs that seeks to “eliminate poverty, increase self-sufficiency of individuals and families, and revitalize communities,” according to its website.

It’s a grand plan from the days of President Lyndon Johnson, but it has been refined by lawmakers to make it difficult to accept the money it provides. It’s even more difficult when the parish administrative body is mired in guidelines and bickering.

The Parish has been trying to accept its 2013 and 2014 allotment of CSBG money since July.
The state says if you want the money, you must follow rules, like having within your Office of Community Services a board to approve everything.

Lafourche’s Community Action Advisory Board, by state law, must be made up of at least 15 but not more than 36 members of the community--a third of the members from elected officials, a third from the private sector, and a third from the low-income segment of the population that it wishes to serve.

Some rules strictly guide just how the funds must be administered, doled out, reported and audited on a yearly basis by the parish.

And most importantly, by law, the Community Action Advisory Board must approve all interaction between the state and the parish.

The October 14, 2014 Lafourche Parish Council public meeting agenda is proof that spending the money is much easier than agreeing to receive it.

At that meeting the Council finally agreed to accept two resolutions approving 2013 and 2014 money from CSBG to reimburse itself for money it has already spent to assist homeless, jobless, hungry and aged residents.

The resolutions had been deferred several times since July, first over whether the Parish President could enter into an agreement with the state to accept the grant money without the prior approval of the Advisory Board, and later over whether the Advisory Board had actually met to approve the transaction.

One resolution changed the amount of money to be requested in 2013 from $253,147 to $266,383 because the amount of money spent on the program had increased.

The other resolution accepted $266,383 for 2014.

Sounds simple?

The reason it is not is the requirement to get a quorum of 15, the minimum number allowed, to come to a meeting.

At a recent parish council meeting, Councilman Jerry Jones accused Parish President Charlotte Randolph of sitting in a nearby room instead of attending an Advisory meeting, thus preventing a quorum.

He went on to say that some board members didn’t show up at other meetings in the past because Randolph might be present.

One recent Advisory Board meeting, on Sept 9, nearly had a quorum. But someone noted that meetings cannot be held on the same day as a parish Council public meeting, so the Advisory Board meeting was cancelled.

By state law, the board is required to hold four meetings per year. That goal might be difficult to achieve given its past record of attendance.

See the problems?

You would think that a board made up of the Parish President, the Sheriff, three tenured councilmen, and other leaders of the community, could get together on a once-per-quarter basis to get things done for the parish.

Currently taxpayers fund the program and the Parish gets reimbursed. The burden, ultimately lying on taxpayers, could be alleviated by the grant if quarterly meetings were attended by the advisory board.