Jefferson Finance Authority head retires 4 months after stories about agency's spending

JEFFERSON, La. -- Jefferson Parish Finance Authority Executive Director Terry McCarthy officially retired Friday, June 23, four months after WWL-TV first reported on the housing agency's spending.

McCarthy announced he was planning to step down at an unspecified time just weeks after the stories aired. The first exposed questionable spending on benefits for McCarthy, payments to people providing services to the agency and per diems paid to members of the agency's board of trustees. 

http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/investigations/katie-moore/inspector-general-probes-spending-of-jefferson-down-payment-program/403026087

The JPFA is public trust providing down payment assistance to Jefferson Parish residents seeking to purchase homes. In exchange for 3 to 4 percent assistance, advertised as a 'grant', home owners pay a slightly higher interest rate over the life of their mortgage.

The second part of the investigative series examined questions raised by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, about the structure of JPFA and similar down payment assistance programs across the country.

http://www.wwltv.com/news/investigations/the-real-cost-of-the-free-jp-down-payment-assistance/409064005

In 2016, the JPFA provided down payment grants for 146 home buyers in Jefferson Parish. That number climbs to nearly 200 when you factor in the down payment grants the authority doled out in St. Tammany, St. Charles and Calcasieu Parishes, all programs that the Jefferson Parish authority has run under its umbrella program, the Southern Mortgage Assistance Program.

But three members of the agency’s oversight board, the Board of Trustees, started asking questions last year about how much money the agency is spending on per diems for board members and fees paid to professionals who do work for the JPFA.

The Jefferson Parish Inspector General has been looking into the agency for several months, but has yet to issue a report.

“Over the years, we've helped over 13,000 people buy a home in Jefferson Parish who could not have bought a home,” McCarthy said about the authority’s record.

JPFA board members receive $150 per diem payments for every meeting they attend withe the agency meeting every week, more than any other finance authority in the state, and those same board members receive the per diems when they attend free luncheons put on by the agency.

McCarthy was hand-picked as the agency's first fulltime executive director in 2009, getting a hefty pay raise in the process. He had been working as executive assistant to Jefferson Parish's Chief Administrative Officer Tim Whitmer.

Whitmer later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges along side former Parish President Aaron Broussard.

McCarthy's car and cell phone allowance was higher than that of all Jefferson Parish employees, but McCarthy pointed out he's not a parish employee and his compensation is covered by contract, not the parish executive payment plan. 

Because of the JPFA's independence from Jefferson Parish, McCarthy's exit from the agency has also raised eyebrows.

The agency reimburses the parish monthly for its expenses, including rent for offices in the Yenni Building, payroll and the retirement contributions made by the parish on behalf of JPFA employees to the Perochial Employees Retirement System of Louisiana.

While the Jefferson Parish Finance Authority is a public trust, it is not a branch of Jefferson Parish Government and in May, the Jefferson Parish Council passed a resolution asking the parish attorney to look into whether the parish was improperly making contributions to the retirement system on behalf of McCarthy and the JPFA employees.

Other finance authorities in different parts of the state have separate retirement systems for their employees, including the Finance Authority of New Orleans.

In response to a public records request in May, PERS estimated McCarthy's final average compensation to be $124,702, which, if qualified, would give him $2,823 for his monthly retirement allowance.

The administrative director for PERS did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Members of the Jefferson Parish Finance Authority Board of Trustees have been battling over who will replace McCarthy, with some pushing to hire Wanda Theriot, the daughter of former interim Jefferson Parish President Steve Theriot, without conducting interviews of all the top applicants.

Push back from some of the members led them to conduct interviews with Theriot and another top applicant that lasted less than an hour.

The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting Wednesday to choose McCarthy's replacement.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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