After past abuses, how are JP tax dollars now being spent

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 25, 2014 at 10:27 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 26 at 6:33 AM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. - John Young took office nearly four years ago with confidence in Jefferson Parish government at an all-time low.

His predecessor, former Parish President Aaron Broussard, resigned and later plead guilty to two felony counts based on payroll fraud involving his ex-wife.

Young immediately set out to put the parish's fiscal house back in order by implementing a better system of checks and balances for administrative expenses.

"One of the first things we did for instance is was deactivate all of the credit cards," said Young. "Every chief administrative assistant had a credit card. I don't have a credit card."

Today, only Jefferson Parish's chief operating officer and director of finance have parish credit cards.

"Obviously, we have to have credit cards for emergency purposes in the case of storms or some type of disaster. But, certainly, even I submit on a reimbursement basis," said Young.

Eyewitness News asked for Young's requests for reimbursements since taking office. We received more than 100 pages of documents accounting for about $14,000 in expenses since October 2010.

During that time, the documents indicate he took a dozen trips, mostly to lobby Congress and meet with federal officials in Washington, D.C. "Washington, D.C. is not cheap," said Young. "But, I certainly don't spend any time up there sightseeing. What we do is we get in, we meet all day and we go out. We don't spend any extra time up there."

While in Washington, D.C., Young usually stays at some top tier hotels. They include the Sofitel Hotel, Hyatt Regency, JW Marriott, St. Gregory, Madison and Hotel George. The room rates there ranged from $210 to $400 a night. That's slightly above the best practices for government travel recommendation by the Government Accountability Office. It suggest a room rate in DC, ranging from $184 to $224 a night, depending on the time of the year.

"We always look for the lowest price," said Young. "We always try to seek a government rate, sometimes they're available, some times they're not."

There were no meal receipts included in the documents provided to Eyewitness News. Young says he either pays for the meals out of his own pocket or takes the $68 a day per diem which doesn't require receipts.

"I think you can make an argument that meals are a legitimate business expense, but I try to shy away from that, you know, because of the issues of the past," said Young. "So, I have not submitted a reimbursement for meals. I pay for it myself."

Young traveled to Washington, D.C. in February 2012 for meetings on the Pump to the River flood protection program.

The meetings, however, coincided with the annual Washington, D.C. Mardi Gras ball. Documents indicate Young paid for his lodging and airfare, but charged the parish $82.30 for business related cab rides.

Young commented on whether he thought it was okay to mix business and pleasure. "Normally, I don't do that. But, I mean certainly, I don't consider Washington, I know you can argue that Washington Mardi Gras is pleasure, but certainly there's a lot of business up there, but that's where I kind of say I'm going to take care of that even though there's Chamber events up there and there's work that's done up there."

Young stands by his record of accomplishments during his out of town trips. He says they resulted in a $66 million federal loan being forgiven, millions of dollars for the Pump to the River program and legislation limiting flood insurance increases including in the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act.

"If you look at those expenses, that's been over four years, no meal reimbursements expenses. Everything's been tied to a business purpose with the objective of reaching a benefit."

Young says his administration is constantly looking for ways to improve the parish travel and expense policy.

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