Auditors: Fenton mayor violated state law with vehicle lights, project awarding

FENTON, LA (KPLC) - A village-owned vehicle driven by the Mayor of Fenton had blue exterior lights and was not marked in accordance with state law, according to a recent Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office advisory report on the village.

The advisory was issued Feb. 27 and is available on the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's website.

According to state law, only law enforcement officers on official duty are allowed to have the blue lights on their vehicles. Auditors suggested the lights be removed from Mayor Eddie Alfred's vehicle, a Dodge Charger.

State law outlines that, "All persons other than law enforcement officers on official duty are prohibited from equipping, operating, or using motor vehicles with blue colored electric lights thereon."

Auditors also noted that the Charger did not have permanent markings of the name and/or insignia of the village. State law outlines that public vehicles driven by officials include official markings.

The penalty for the violation, the advisory states, is a fine "not less than $25 nor more than $50 for each such violation." Law outlines that, "each day upon which such a violation is committed shall be considered a separate offense."

Alfred spoke to KPLC on Tuesday about the advisory.

He said the lights were for emergency situations only and were necessary because Fenton is a major thoroughfare for the transportation of hazardous materials.

"They were to get back quick if I need to. Only for emergency situations," he said.

Alfred said the lights are still on the vehicle but are disconnected and not operational.

Auditors, in the advisory, also noted that in 2011, a project was awarded by Alfred to a relative and not put before the village board for approval, as required by state law.

"In 2011, Mayor Alfred awarded a project to build a heliport in the Village without obtaining approval from the board of aldermen. Mayor Alfred awarded this work to his uncle, Melvin Alfred Sr., and their agreement was verbal and not in writing," the advisory states.

According to information in the advisory, the total cost of the heliport project was approximately $7,696. The village paid $5,279 to Melvin Alfred Sr.

"According to Mayor Alfred and his staff, there was no formal board approval for either the heliport project or the work awarded. Although state law [R.S. 33§404 A(4)] gives the Mayor the power to sign all contracts on behalf of the Village, Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 12-0074 provides that the Mayor cannot execute a contract that expends public funds in the absence of an ordinance or resolution by the board of aldermen authorizing him to do so," the report states.

Alfred also addressed the project awarding on Tuesday in his interview with KPLC.

He said the matter was discussed by the board and agreed upon, though no formal vote was taken or recorded.

City Clerk Marella Hubachek said the panel thought the project could be handled as such because the amount fell under $10,000, well under the threshold of the public bid law.

"It was discussed and verbally agreed upon," she said. "But there was no formal resolution."

As a response, auditors suggested the village consult with its attorney before contracts are made.

Some other findings were also noted in the advisory, including inadequate documentation of fuel usage and the lack of a written record retention schedule to ensure that public records are maintained by state law.

Alfred said that auditors visited the Village of Fenton for two days in December.

He said their visit was prompted by allegations made against the village that were false, he said.

Hubachek said the village has a plan for all of the suggestions made by auditors.

Auditors stated in the advisory that they would be monitoring the village's resolution of the issues.

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