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City CFO locked out of city bank account

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

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Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter has revoked CFO Audrey McCain’s authorization on all the city’s bank accounts with American Gateway Bank, stating that she did so to ensure compliance with state law.

McCain said that she can no longer sign checks on behalf of the city, access the accounts online or dispense payroll. Only the mayor and the Mayor Pro-Tem, Ray Helen Lawrence, have authorization to do that.

Slaughter said her review of La. Revised Statute 33:404 “shows that the Mayor has the sole authority to sign checks of the City.”

That revised statute states the following as duties of the mayor: “To sign all contracts on behalf of the municipality,” “To sign warrants drawn on the treasury for money,” and “to require that the municipal clerk attest to such warrants.”

McCain is also the city’s current municipal clerk.

Slaughter also referenced La. Attorney General’s opinion 92-174 which states that, “It continues to be the opinion of this office that the authority for signing checks is vested solely within the mayor.”

The opinion goes on to say that, “It is not an administrative duty to be performed by another officer.”

However, McCain said she has concerns of who is watching the money.

“The CFO always signed all of the checks,” she said.

McCain said it is not an uncommon practice for the city to list the mayor and the mayor pro-tem on the city’s bank accounts.

“[The mayor] certainly has a right to do that,” she said.

But what McCain said she doesn’t understand is how she can do her job as CFO and be the eyes of the council - to watch how money is being spent - without the authority to sign checks or view the bank accounts online.

“The council is not on any of the bank accounts, nor should they be,” she said. “That’s why you protect department heads.”

With the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year beginning July 1, McCain said she has yet to see the budget the mayor is set to present at the June 12 city council meeting.

Slaughter advertised for the budget this week, stating in a public notice that the budget will be available for public inspection Thursday, June 13 at city hall and a public hearing will be held on the budget June 26 at 5:30 also at city hall.

The delay in introducing the budget has some council members worried.

“We always got it in May,” Councilman Hugh Riviere said. “We’re going to try to cram it down in two weeks.”

“I would be remiss in my duties as an elected official to wait ‘til the last minute,” Councilman Garry Hubble said. “Do you realize that safety and services will be decreased by 50 percent if we do not adopt a budget?”

According to the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act, “All action necessary to adopt and otherwise finalize and implement the budget” would have to be done in open meeting before the end of the prior fiscal year, June 30 at midnight. If the budget is not adopted before July 1, 50 percent of last year’s budget would roll over into this year, according to the budget act.

Slaughter, at the Wednesday, June 5 city committee meeting, attributed the delay to McCain excluding her from the budget process. McCain denied any such allegations in a phone interview Monday, saying, “I think it’s a lie,” and, “Anything she asked for, she got.”

McCain said, after not being invited to participate in the discussions, that the mayor has now effectively excluded her from budget preparations.

Slaughter said of her working relationship with McCain after the June 5 city council meeting: “We have lots of communication.”

McCain disagreed, saying, “That’s not true.” She explaining that though the two may email from adjacent offices, “It doesn’t fit my definition of communication.”

“She does not speak to me,” McCain said. “She talks about me. She does not talk to me.”

McCain said that Friday, June 7 she had to find out from American Gateway Bank that the mayor removed McCain’s authorization from the city’s bank accounts.

On May 1, McCain distributed copies of the budget she prepared to the mayor and city council members, but Slaughter would not let McCain present that budget nor council members discuss it. On June 5, Slaughter again would not allow council members to discuss the budget, saying that she would present it June 12 and assuring them, “We will have time.”

When clarifying that the first budget was the one prepared by the CFO, Slaughter said June 5, “I have not put the budget together. The mayor has to put the budget together.”

McCain said once a budget is introduced, she will be scrambling to explain it to council members before the designated June 26 public hearing.

“If I had seen it even two weeks ago... I could have met with them between then and now,” she said.

She added that she is worried about a payment due July 1 to pay down bonds on the current city hall.

“I don’t know how I can do that if I can’t write checks,” she said.

According to McCain, a payment of $186,000 is due July 1 to pay down the nearly $2.8 million still owed on Port Allen City Hall.

She said that Port Allen first borrowed $3.5 million on July 15, 2004, for the current city hall. The old building, which now sits abandoned, has city officials such as Police Chief Esdron Brown suggesting the city transform the building into a new headquarters for the Port Allen Police Department.

McCain said from a financial perspective, she is “very limited” on what she can do right now, though she finds tasks to complete for the city.

“I’ve been busy this morning,” she said Monday, but admits, “I don’t know how I will be able to balance next month’s checkbook.”

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