Gibsland Officials Cited in Investigative Audit; Report Sent to DA

According to KTBS, A disregard by town officials of state law, inadequate record-keeping, filing late audits, and a failure to reclassify Gibsland because of its population decline may be violations of state and other laws, according to an investigative audit filed Monday.  A copy of the audit has been provided to the Bienville Parish District Attorney’s Office for review.

The investigation was initiated after state auditors received multiple complaints about the town’s use of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office cited public officials for the following:

Government budget act

The town may have violated state law since it could not provide records to demonstrate a properly adopted budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.

ARPA funds, vehicle purchases, improper incentives for town officials

Gibsland Mayor Ray Ivory and Alderman Julius Pearson appear to have violated state law by disregarding requirements of the Local Government Budget Act, Lawrason Act, and Public Bid Law in the performance of their duties.  Ivory and Pearson signed town checks to pay unbudgeted and unauthorized salary incentives to elected officials and town employees without a board-approved budget or an ordinance to increase pay for the elected officials and town clerk.  Ivory and Pearson also signed town checks to purchase three vehicles for the town without a board-approved budget and without advertising the purchase for bid.

Part-time clerk’s hours

Town Clerk Rockettia Brown works part-time for the town of Gibsland and full-time as the town of Arcadia’s clerk. According to the Gibsland’s QuickBooks (accounting software) records, Brown was paid for 80 hours of work bi-weekly (full-time) until Feb. 4, 2019, when her hours were reduced to 45 hours bi-weekly (part-time).  Brown’s payroll records stopped showing the number of hours worked after Aug. 19, 2019. Ivory did not set a part-time schedule for her, and there is no record of hours she worked. Since the Mayor does not require Brown to work a specified number of hours or keep records of the hours she works, but authorizes her to receive the full budgeted amount, he may have violated the state constitution and state law.

Audit law noncompliance

The town’s last annual audit was for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2020. Ivory is responsible for ensuring the Town completes its annual audit of its financial statements and submits the audit to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor no later than six months after the end of the fiscal year. Since the town did not complete its audit in a timely manner, Ivory may have violated state law.

Improper classification as town

The town currently operates under the Lawrason Act as a town and has five elected aldermen. Federal census data indicates that Gibsland has had fewer than 1,001 inhabitants since at least 2010.  Based on this information, the town should be classified as a village and have only three elected aldermen. The U.S. Census Bureau put the town’s population at 731 in 2022. Because the town did not adopt a resolution requesting the governor to change its classification, the town may have violated state law.

Management response

Ivory defended the payments to the council and staff in a one-page letter to state Auditor Michael Waguespack. He explained how they worked “tirelessly” to protect the “community and ourselves against COVID-19.”  Ivory said the town’s aged water system required around-the-clock monitoring so there was no downtime for anyone, including himself, to maintain the town’s infrastructure and services.  He said the base pay of $200 for the council and $300 for the mayor were not a concern during the pandemic. “In spite of the pandemic, our involvement with the town never ceased,” Ivory wrote.  

In a separate letter, Ivory defended the clerk’s pay. He said there is no way to keep track of the calls and emails between him and the clerk. He noted when she was off for COVID and surgery she continued to work from home paying bills and handling the town’s business.  “It should be noted that Rockettia is a vital element to the town of Gibsland, she has earned a professional reputation and upholds the guidelines for which our town stands. Being said, it is my obligation to ensure that she remains with the town of Gibsland,” Ivory wrote. “As mayor, I will continue to upholds my duties and responsibilities including ensuring that my, our staff and council, are treated lawfully and fairly within the guidelines of the Louisiana Municipal Association and our town attorney, Pamela Breedlove.”

November 8 Election

Ray Ivory is up for re-election for the Town of Gibsland’s mayor.  His opponent is Jeannie Y. Richardson.

Five people qualified for the five Alderman positions for the Town of Gibsland, which means that they are unopposed.  The candidates are Angela “Nub” Adams, Gary Durham, Dianna Pearson, Julius Pearson (named in the auditor’s report), and Debra “Deb” Rushing.

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