- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Public funds from the Orleans Parish criminal court clerk’s office were used to pay for $78,000 in celebrations, donations to nonprofit organizations and gifts and meals for employees, Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor’s Office said in a report released Monday.

Clerk Arthur Morrell defends the spending, which took place from December 2006 until February of last year, as good for employee morale. Also, because the parties were open to the public, Morrell said they helped him publicize his office’s need for more money from the city of New Orleans.

The report released Monday also said Morrell used funds from his office for more than $7,000 in personal expenses. Morrell said any expenditures that were not deemed as business-related have been reimbursed.

The report also said Morrell’s office failed to follow proper procedures while paying employees for election-related expenses at rates higher than their regular rates.

The report said that between February 2010 and March 2014, Morrell’s office paid more than $120,000 to employees for election work at rates higher than their normal rate of pay, more than $213,000 to election workers who were not pre-authorized by the Secretary of State’s Office and more than $53,000 for expenses that were not pre-authorized by the Secretary of State’s Office.

In his response, Morrell said the pay rates have been the same for election workers since before he took office and several other clerks were unaware of the policies cited by the auditor.

“This clerk’s office has followed the same Election Day payroll policies that all my former clerks used,” Morrell said in a statement. “Not until 2014 did the Secretary of State inform me that we needed pre-approval of the pay scale for Election Day workers and we have complied with that request.

The auditors also found that between January 2010 and March 2014, Morrell’s office paid Elections Coordinator Elizabeth Stoner per diem payments billed to the secretary of state totaling $3,250 for attending Orleans Parish Board of Election Supervisors meetings, most of which were held during her regular Clerk of Court working hours.

Morrell told the auditors he will draft new policies before employees will be permitted to “participate in non-related activities during regular work hours,” and that he intends to create a new compliance officer position within his office “when my budget is fully funded” by the city.

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