OIG questions whether Audubon Nature Institute used public funds for parties and Saints tailgating

OIG questions whether Audubon Nature Institute used public funds for parties and Saints tailgating

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The New Orleans Inspector General questions whether the Audubon Nature Institute and the Audubon Commission is following state law.

“Finding number one focuses on the contractual arrangement between the Commission, a public entity and the Institute, and we found there are issues there,” says Derry Harper.

Inspector General Derry Harper says the city’s Audubon Commission, by contract, gives the Audubon Institute 50 thousand dollars to manage the facilities.

In the same bank account, there are millions of dollars in taxes and public revenue from those facilities.

Harper says that’s public money.

“They’re treating it like the Institute is in control of it, and it really is the Commission’s account,” says Harper.

Harper points to tens of thousands of dollars in public money the Audubon Institute spent on things like holiday parties, Saints tailgating, as well as T.V.s and IPADs for its employees.

“The parties and employees recognition events referenced by the OIG were for the benefit of the over 900 nonprofit employees that take care of these facilities. They take care of the animals,” says Rebecca Dietz.

Rebecca Dietz of the Audubon Institute agrees it’s using public money, but she says the Institute is not violating state law.

“The agreement between the Institute and the Commission is constitutional and it’s a model for institutes across the county. Zoos and aquariums operate under this model,”Dietz said.

“Yeah, that’s not allowed with public funds. I can’t buy a television set and give it to one of my employees because they’re an employee of the month. I can use my own money, but not the public’s money,” says Harper.

Harper also questions the legality of more than 200 thousand dollars in public money spent to promote a tax millage increase for Audubon facilities back in 2014.

“A public entity can’t use public funds in any kind of political race or in this case, a referendum on whether to raise taxes,” says Harper.

“It’s important to note that these are public funds generated by the Institute for the commission of these facilities,” says Dietz

The OIG suggests the Institute rework its contract with the Commission or tighten up the expenditure side of it.

“So that no public funds are used for prohibited donations or the public is not getting the value of their money,” says Harper.

“We may not agree with all of his findings, but we are always looking at ways to improve,” says Dietz.

The report does not allege misconduct or fraud.

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