Where is the love?

Published 12:59 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Washington Parish officials are continuing to make nice with St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed, and who can blame them?

After all, parish officials are contending Reed’s office has an unpaid tab of nearly $1 million for office expenses in Franklinton. So the niceties are expected.

However, the message from Reed’s office is not so lovey-dovey. In no uncertain terms Reed has informed the parish he has no intention of paying that debt, nor will he pick up the full portion of what parish officials believe they are owed dating to a gentleman’s agreement made some 25 years ago.

In that alleged agreement, alleged because Reed’s office will not acknowledge the existence of the pact, the DA said he would reimburse Washington Parish for added expenses incurred when he expanded the Franklinton office by five to seven employees.

The agreement worked out fine for many years until Reed stopped all payments for a period of approximately 18 months beginning in 2007. He resumed payments in 2009 but at a reduced schedule, leaving the parish to cover a $13,000 a month shortfall.

That additional expenditure, along with the parish being forced to write off $800,000 of Reed’s past lack of reimbursement, have left officials scrambling to make up what is expected to be a projected deficit of more than $200,000 in the general fund by the end of the year.

On the surface it appears Reed’s refusal to pay those past expenses is holding the parish budget hostage. Quite simply, other agencies will suffer the consequences through cutbacks or even layoffs for Reed’s stubbornness.

Plainly put, if Reed had not interrupted his payments for reasons still unknown then the parish would not be in this predicament. In fact, because of the frugalness of Parish President Richard Thomas and his staff, the general fund, although not bulging, would sport a nice surplus.

But the quandary for Washington Parish officials is they likely have no legal standing in the impasse. A verbal agreement is not binding under Louisiana law, and Reed’s continued denial or non-admittance of such an agreement only augments the dilemma, so a courtroom skirmish would likely be fruitless.

Parish officials remain hopeful that Reed will pony up the money, or least a portion, but that’s delusional rationale. He has made it clear no back payments are forthcoming and future payments will continue at the reduced amount.

So what’s the resolution?

First, the district attorney’s office must be open about its operating expenses in Franklinton. Reed submitted a budget of $18,000 a month for operating expenses for that office, which officials included in the parish budget.

However, the district attorney’s office spends another $29,000, of which it is now only reimbursing $16,000, leaving the parish to pick up the rest. That amount has never been in the budget, officials said, because of Reed’s past reimbursement.

In that same conversation the district attorney must explain his curious history of reimbursements, and why he suddenly ceased payments in 2007 and resumed in 2009 at the reduced amount.

Secondly, Reed and other parish agencies must be realistic in their expectations. The parish is in a financial crisis, and all parties must be willing to sacrifice in order to make ends meet.

And that includes Reed, who must break his silence and have a confab with parish officials to explain his rationale. Like a jilted lover, at least parish officials might finally have an explanation of why the love has gone out of the relationship.