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Audit deals blow to Nungesser reelection hopes

The agency overseen by Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser in responding to a tough state audit probably gave a good hint of a combative reelection strategy for its boss.

That wouldn’t deviate from his past statewide runs, where for this office Nungesser had a strategy of making feisty ideological proclamations, even if much had nothing to do with the duties of the office itself. But now as the incumbent, he has to defend his record in office, and, ironically enough, one big mark against him to many comes from an issue preference he expressed in carrying out his official duties.

This came from a Bond Commission vote not to disallow bond merchants whose financial businesses discouraged exercise of Second Amendment rights, a motion which failed in April by his single vote. Another attempt in August that succeeded found him absent. In more symbolic ways, Nungesser also has perturbed conservatives, such as a reluctance to criticize Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards over questions of taxes and spending.

It's part of an electoral crisis for Nungesser, who saw extraordinary underwater approval numbers in the only public poll gauging his support. Just 42 percent recognizing his name wouldn’t have been unusual, but that proportion saying they wouldn’t reelect him places him in serious trouble.

Now, a fairly negative audit of the state department he oversees, Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, has put him even more firmly on the back foot. Inability to properly track spending, follow payroll policies or collect appropriate park fees show a questionable ability to administer adequately, with the buck stopping with Nungesser.

The audit questioned control over an apartment the agency uses in New Orleans’ Vieux Carré, an issue that erupted into controversy over a year-and-a-half ago that led to a high-profile resignation. It also noted that at least one dedicated fund budget was late; museums changed fees contrary to the law or ignored authorizations not to charge these; the agency had little documentation for one of its sub-agency’s contracting; nearly half of a sample of credit card purchases lacked necessary authorization; and, over a third of payroll time sheets had approval errors and nearly two-fifth of special requests (annual leave, sick leave, or overtime) went unreviewed by supervisors.

CRT admitted fault to some of these, blaming various errors on staffing woes, employee mistakes, and supervisor ignorance. But on those specifically dealing with some fees, payroll issues, and credit cards, the agency defended its actions, sometimes pugnaciously.

Perhaps that approach for the responses made up for a lack of substance in some instances that took on a quality of dogs eating homework. For example, on the fees issue the agency said it had promulgated these, but no evidence existed that ever had happened. Regarding the issue of credit card use, it asserted certain employees had predetermined spending limits not requiring authorization and after the fact various levels of bureaucracy checked the results, but, again, no proof of any of this arrangement existed in the form of written documentation (with several of the questioned items connected directly to Nungesser’s office).

And on the issue of payroll, it claimed poor Internet service impeded gaining proper certifications through the state’s Cross Application Timesheet system, among “various other situations” that should “happen on an occasional basis,” yet it would seem that numbers approaching three-eighths of various payroll actions means the problems are not sporadic, but systemic and need some kind of backup or corrective procedures (which the agency said it belatedly would introduce).

Political issues aside, all in all the audit isn’t welcome news for Nungesser because it strikes directly at his managerial competence. Obviously, sound administration demands documentation of some things not in writing, and following up on others, yet Nungesser seemed unconcerned or didn’t bother to inquire about such things.

These results provide fertile criticism material against Nungesser by any putative opponents, and only increases the difficultly of his path to reelection.

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