Among the nation’s riveting woes, uncertainties, and major challenges include a Pandemic, more than 50 million Americans unemployed, more than 120 thousand lives already lost to COVID 19, weeks of protests occurring throughout the nation, and worldwide marches and protests being held over the death of George Floyd. Floyd was needlessly murdered, vigilante style, at the hands of Dereck Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Against this dire backdrop, the nation, the Town of Jonesboro and every city USA could use some good news.
For several years, the town of Jonesboro has suffered greatly due to an inability to fix its financial situation The Town of Jonesboro has for several years been riddled with a number of financial audit findings that have stymied the town’s efforts in receiving state and federal funding. The town’ audits were at least two years in arrears when Mayor Thompson took office. The “breaking news”, is that after almost eighteen months in office and through much hard work and perseverance, Mayor Leslie Thompson announced that the Town of Jonesboro is no longer on the state’ non-compliance list. Once removed from the State of Louisiana’ non- compliance list the Town is now eligible to receive both state and federal support in the form of grants and other means to make improvements for the citizens of Jonesboro.
A letter written to The Honorable Leslie Thompson, Mayor of the Town of Jonesboro from Mr. Thomas H. Cole, CPA, CGMA, First Assistant Legislative Auditor states: “We have subsequently corresponded with the Louisiana Department of Health(LDH), Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the condition of the town’s utility systems. Based on the possible threats to the public safety, health, and welfare of the town’s residents, we will grant a conditional extension, temporarily removing the town from the Legislative Auditor’s noncompliance list, so that the town may pursue available grant funding to bring its utility systems into compliance with LDH, LDEQ and EPA regulations.”
Mayor Thompson and his staff are to be commended for this success and especially for their drive and determination to get the town off of the non-compliance list. The town has lost over a million dollars due to having been placed on the non-compliance list. We also commend Mayor Thompson and the town council for agreeing and coming to terms with passing the town’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget. The staff at town hall has played a vital role in addressing many of the unresolved audit findings left over from the Bradford Administration. For this the town’s people are grateful.
Readers must know that there is a back story that precedes the good news being shared with the citizens of the Town of Jonesboro. During Mayor Thompson’s first and second terms in office, he was inundated with a host of major problems left in the wake of previous Mayor Donald Essmeier. Thompson was scrutinized and condemned for any actions he took that were not blessed by a contentious town council bent on maintaining the status quo. Petty disputes between the Mayor and the Town council arose over who the mayor could hire, what color the mayor’s town car was to be and where it could go. There were major disagreements over itemized spending in the town’s budget and the list goes on.
Added to this list of frustrations, Mayor Thompson was left holding the bag in trying to run a town with an antiquated, neglected, water and sewerage system that should have been replaced years ago. Water pipes were bursting night and day all over the town. Mayor Thompson did the best he could do under a situation where there were little or no funds to handle these problems while at the same time he was hit with a rapid turnover in staff. White staff members, the brain trust at town hall (who had been there for many, many years), walked out of the door and left Thompson hanging to figure it out by himself.
Despite the critics and naysayers, Mayor Thompson was able to bring in several millions of dollars in state and federal grants to address some of the unmet needs of the Town of Jonesboro. In 2007 the town received $291,950 in grants. In 2008 the town received $4,683,200 in grants. In 2009, $815,503 was received in grant funding. In 2010, $1,372,000 was received. In 2012 $212,350 and in 2013, $2,017,340 was received in grant funding. This funding was directed towards water, sewer, airport, street improvements and other improvements throughout the Town of Jonesboro. I could not find anywhere in the history of the town where this amount of grant funding was applied for and received before or since then. From 2007 through 2013, a total of $9,179,993 was received from various funding sources such as LGAP, DRA, USDA, FAA, DOTD, Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund, LCDBG, Capital Outlay grant, Community Water Enrichment Fund and local funds. This would be quite an accomplishment for any administration and deserves recognition for the effort and hard work it takes to achieve such.
After years of wrangling with the town council, Legislative Auditor Darrell Purpura’ office and local political operatives (who had a long running feud and a fundamental dislike with and for Thompson), began working together to have Mayor Thompson ousted from office. Due to several fiscal problems, the town was placed on a watch list and later on the State’s non-compliance list. The town was issued a disclaimer in the State’s audit report, which meant that the financial records were so inaccurate, or that records were missing or so badly out of order that an audit could not be performed.
When these facts became public, Mayor Thompson’s office was inundated with information requests from law enforcement that ultimately overran his office and confiscated records, and documents. Consequently, this action along with other acts of racial injustice and especially a petition being circulated by a band of white citizens to have Mayor Thompson removed from office, tensions in the black community began to rise, tempers began to flare up over the manner in which events were unfolding and citizens began referring to Mayor Thompson as having misappropriated funds. Ultimately Mayor Thompson was indicted, tried, convicted and sent to prison for 11 years for malfeasance in office.
Hold on, there is more to this back story, as reported in the Jackson Independent newspaper. On, Thursday August 30, 2018 the paper, cited a front-page story entitled: “Mayor Bradford holds special meeting to address audit allegations.” Many of the town’s people attended that meeting and were flabbergasted at the number of audit findings issued against a small town like Jonesboro. The list of audit findings for the year 2017 were more than just casual audit allegations, they were serious audit findings issued by the independent CPA firm of Bosh and Statham. The 121 page audit report (conducted on May 10th 2018) cited irregularities stemming from cash receipts not being properly maintained, pre-numbered cash receipts not used in order, issues with bank accounts being required and was not fully funded, noncompliance with public bid laws, liability for customer deposits exceeded restricted cash, utility fund accounts receivables includes bad debts, utility accounts of city employees and officials being paid late, failure in multiple elements of internal control, financial statement not being provided to Board of Aldermen, failure to publish minutes of Town’ meetings, and the list goes on. Factually there were 20 audit findings reported in the Jackson Parish story written by Ben Ledbetter.
What is more interesting, troubling and continues to haunt many concerned citizens is the fact that several years earlier Mayor Leslie Thompson was indicted and convicted for malfeasance in office and sent to prison for supposedly engaging in and committing some of the same offenses noted in the Bradford Administration’s audit reports. In a preliminary audit report issued by Bosch & Statham dated April 2, 2020, which was generated from the results and schedule of findings as of and for the year ended June 30, 2018, which occurred during Bradford’s tenure as Mayor, it was noted that; “The Town appears to have violated the Louisiana Audit law. The law includes the following: Whoever violates the provisions of this Section (K) shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars and shall be deemed guilty of malfeasance and gross misconduct in office and shall be subject to removal”. The statements set forth in the preliminary report to the Town of Jonesboro were grounds for removal of any mayor who was in office in 2018. Sadly, most of the council members who were in office at that time never questioned the findings and looked the other way giving the Bradford Administration a pass on the 2017 audit findings that could have led to malfeasance in office. Additionally cited in the audit report was a note that the town “has been placed on the noncompliance list and will receive no funds from the state until the report is submitted.” Note that the 2018 audit was never completed by the Bradford administration but was completed under Mayor Thompson’s administration.
Wow!! This has to be one of the great tales of two men, where both men were cited for the same findings which could constitute malfeasance in office, but one goes to prison and the other was so protected that he has never seen the inside of a prison. Where is the justice in this scenario? The wheels of justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine. In 2018, Bradford ran for reelection and was defeated, by now, Mayor Thompson, thereby making Bradford a one term mayor. Nevertheless, it is this kind of miscarriage of justice that must come to an end and all people must be treated with dignity and allowed to live out the true meaning of justice and liberty for all. We must get rid of the dual justice system.