ST. TAMMANY, La. -- The Inspector General Taskforce in St. Tammany kicked off in August with the goal of studying the feasibility of having an inspector general's office for the parish to uncover fraud and abuse in government.
When the group of 24 was set up, the resolution read, “members of the taskforce shall serve without compensation, except per diem or expense reimbursement.”
But Eyewitness News has found Ron Guth, the town attorney for Pearl River, who is also the town’s representative on the taskforce, has billed Pearl River for at least two of the four inspector general meetings held to date.
The bills are $300 each for “representation and research for IG” for two hours in August and again in September. The town couldn’t locate one for October, and Guth didn’t attend the meeting last week.
Guth told us he didn’t have time to do an on-camera interview for this story, but did answer questions by phone. He told us the billing and amounts are proper, in his opinion.
The town clerk said the August and September bills were paid after approval by Mayor James Lavigne. We tried to ask the mayor about that approval, but he wouldn't comment.
We checked with other members that work for the same government entities that they represent on the taskforce to see if they’ve billed or taken any overtime for any work with the I.G. group. Every response was no. Many members were wowed by our findings.
"It's a little ironic that a government is paying someone to cover the taskforce meetings," said Sandra Slifer, representing the League of Women Voters on the taskforce.
"I just have never looked at it as more than anything but a civic duty, a community service," said Mandeville Mayor Pro Tem Rick Danielson, who is the taskforce chairman.
But they say, ultimately, right or wrong, the decision on who represents them and paying that person comes down to the town. This discovery is just the latest in a series of stories by Eyewitness News into questionable spending and operations in the Town of Pearl River.
The only member we contacted who did not answer our billing question was Chuck Branton, who represented the coroner’s office, until he was removed following former Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan’s resignation.