KSLA investigation uncovers wasted taxpayer dollars

Woody Wilson 2017 Washington Mardi Gras expenses.
Woody Wilson 2017 Washington Mardi Gras expenses.
Ken Ward's Washington Mardi Gras 2017 expenses.
Ken Ward's Washington Mardi Gras 2017 expenses.
Cost of 2017 Washington Mardi Gras tickets.
Cost of 2017 Washington Mardi Gras tickets.

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - A KSLA News 12 Investigation has uncovered wasted taxpayer dollars.

Within the next few months parish governments across Louisiana will shell out some serious cash to buy tickets for next year's Washington Mardi Gras.

Tickets for the 2018 event have to be purchased by September.

Washington Mardi Gras is an event in the nation's capital that includes various social events, but leaders say they go to network with politicians and cut deals to benefit their districts.

For this year's event, Caddo Parish leaders paid $5,600 for Washington Mardi Gras tickets.  Through public records requests, KSLA News 12 discovered two tickets worth $2,500 went unused.

In August of 2016, Parish Administrator Woody Wilson signed off on a check that paid for four registrations to various events like a dinner dance, Mardi Gras ball, and access to a special food and drink area. The parish also purchased two lunch tickets for $150 a piece.

Caddo Parish Administrator Woody Wilson is in charge of using public money to buy the tickets.

"In the previous 8 years, I've always purchased a ticket for the president, vice president, myself and then one other staff member to go and do the lobbying," Wilson said.

However because of travel policy changes made in early 2016, commissioners now need a majority commission vote to use public dollars to attend Washington Mardi Gras.

Prior to the change, commissioners were not required to seek permission to attend the event.

"I asked the commissioners back in June of last year, if we are still going to go to the Washington D.C. Mardi Gras, we still going to go? The answer was yes," said Wilson.

But none of the commissioners asked the full commission for approval to go, which prompted us to ask parish leaders who actually went.

According to Caddo Parish spokesman Krystle Grindley, only Woody Wilson and Public Works Engineer Ken Ward attended on the parish dime. 
As a result, the $2,500 used to buy two additional registrations went unused.

"I have to operate on the premise that everybody is going to go because they told me they were going to go back in June," said Wilson about why he purchased four registrations, but only two were used.

This year Commission Vice President Doug Dominick declined to attend because he said, "President Jackson attended. I felt as the president of the commission he should represent us."

However, Jackson didn't ask the commission for permission to go. After inquiring about the issue, Jackson explained he did seek permission from the commission to attend because he declined the registration and paid his own way, without using public money.

"I think we need to look at the fact that I took out of my own pocket and expensed my own trip for what I thought was a worthwhile experience," he said.

"Had I accepted the ticket, it would have been Commissioner Jackson is spending public tax dollars to go to this event that the public perceives as not good. So I spent my own money to participate."

However, Jackson did agree to use a $150 ticket at the invitation of Wilson to attend a economic development luncheon, a Washington Mardi Gras event.

Initially, Grindley said because he had not received commission approval the would have to reimburse the parish for that cost.

She said the following in an email:

"When I sent the information to you earlier, I was not aware that Commissioner Jackson did not attend any of the social events included in the package. Commissioner Jackson did attend the Economic Development luncheon, at a cost of $150.00. He has since been made aware of this cost, and will be reimbursing the parish."

However, later Grindley said it was a misstatement.

"I had no intention of reimbursing the parish. There is no precedence," he said.

He further explained in the following statement:

I paid in excess of $1,500 of my personal money to travel to Washington DC to speak with members of our congressional delegation regarding important issues of our community and state (red river flooding, disaster relief funding, and preserving Medicaid Expansion).

According to Wilson, when he found out Jackson and Dominick would not be using the tickets, he tried to get others to go. However, by then it was too late to get it on the agenda for commission approval.

"I would certainly like to maximize all of the investment, the money we put into this endeavor," Wilson said. "In nine years, this is the first time this has happened. We couldn't get anyone to go."

To avoid waste in the future, Wilson says if the future president or vice president decline to use the tickets, it is up to them to find a replacement. 
"When it comes to actually going, if they can't go, I would impress upon them like I did this time, make sure you get it on the agenda, to authorize someone else who maybe available to go, to go."

In total, including lodging, transportation, registration fees and food, Woody Wilson and Ken Ward spent the following at Washington Mardi Gras:
Wilson spent a total of $3,639 and Ward spent $3,738.

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