It sounds simple enough: down payment assistance grants are supposed to help encourage home ownership, increase economic development, widen the parish tax base and give people a sense of pride in their community.
Those are all reasons that have been given over the years for why governmental organizations, many established as public trusts, are still allowed to give out down payment grants.
But when the boards and executives overseeing the programs that run them are spending hundreds of thousands on operational costs and perks for themselves, it begs the question of whether the public trusts are operating with the public’s interests at heart.
One of the things I couldn’t fit in my first investigative report on the Jefferson Parish Finance Authority’s down payment and closing cost assistance program was the limitation placed on the number of meetings that board members can get paid a per diem to attend.
My report for WWL-TV, which you can find here, exposed the fact that the Board of Trustees of the JPFA meets weekly and the eight trustees on the board get paid $150 in public money to attend every meeting.
In addition to those weekly board meetings (which last about 22 minutes on average), some of the trustees are members of oversight committees which meet outside of the weekly board meetings. There’s an Administrative Committee and a Marketing and Advertising Committee. The trustees on those committees get paid $150 to attend the committee meetings as well.
The trustees can also get paid $150 to attend two bi-annual luncheons. So, they get a free lunch and $150 to attend.
This Jefferson Parish ordinance (as published on Municode.com) limits the number of meetings board members can get reimbursed for. It specifically says board members may get per diems for “no more than 52 meetings per calendar year.”
Take a look at these shots of annual audit reports submitted to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor by the JPFA.
In 2014, three of the trustees got paid for more than 52 meetings. In 2015, four of the trustees did too. It’s one of the things the Jefferson Parish Inspector General will likely look into as he completes his look at the agency.