Tregre’s spending practice questioned

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 30, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 30, 1999

HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish’s council secretary relayed her concernMonday to the council’s finance committee on expenses charged against the council budget by the parish president and his chief administrative officer.

Although nothing illegal or unethical was charged, Joan Becnel said, “It’s not proper procedure.”The allegedly improper accounting included items such as charging Councilman Ellis Alexander’s legal fees against the council budget, crimping it by $20,000. Rather, Becnel said, the matter should have goneto the council for a budget amendment. Instead, she added, it wasadministratively charged against the council.

“It is my duty to report to you precedent-setting action – authorization of expenditures of council funds by members of the executive branch, in lieu of presentation of a budget amendment for consideration and approval by the parish council,” she told the committee. “Never before has this actionoccurred. Never!”Parish President Chris Tregre and chief administrator Timothy Vial “both signed off on expenses,” Becnel said. She added she found out about theimproper practice from the finance director, her husband Roland Becnel.

“It’s just not appropriate,” she said.

Tregre, on the other hand, insisted he acted completely properly within the guidelines of the parish’s home rule charter.

He added: “I execute the budget. It’s my name on the checks. There weresufficient funds in the budget and I can transfer line-items within the budget.”Also among the expenses Becnel said were improperly charged were the upgrades to the council chamber’ sound system. “It depleted my account,”Becnel added, “and I’m strapped for funds for other things, such as training of new employees.”She noted that a 20-year veteran employee, Susan Landeche, unexpectedly left the job and moved out of state. “She was my right-hand person. Ithought she would replace me one day.” However, with no training fundsavailable, the workload has snowballed.

During 1998, as part of their overall workload, the council staff prepared 152 ordinances, 143 resolutions, transcribed 30 regular and special meeting minutes and 40 committee meeting minutes, prepared 1,830 complete agendas, 2,520 brief agendas and 1,325 audience agendas.

The staffers also booked the council members for conventions and conferences, forwarded correspondence and processed work requests from the council members.

Finance committee chairman Dickie Duhe agreed as to the value of the council staff and added it is “very much appreciated.”He continued, “I don’t think there’s any question in anybody’s mind about the tremendous work you all do.”

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