NEW ROADS, LA (WAFB) - As former New Roads Mayor Robert Myer prepares for a sentencing hearing Tuesday for his recent public corruption conviction, City Councilman Kirk White is preparing to inquire about a more recent case of questionable spending with city credit cards.
Through a public records request, the 9News Investigators spent several months pouring over thousands of credit card statements, receipts, and other financial records tucked away in City Hall. The records relate to more recent expenses than those that led to Myer's indictment in August of 2016 and his subsequent conviction last year.
During a 20-month period, from the beginning of 2016 through September of 2017, New Roads city council members and administrative officials spent almost $50,000 on travel and entertainment-related expenses, according to the Investigators' analysis of city records.
Town officials traveled to at least 21 different cities and nine states. The majority of the trips were to attend conferences and seminars such as the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. and the American Public Power Association Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
New Roads city leaders and administrators attended at least 16 out-of-town conferences, in some cases traveling as far away as Pittsburgh and Ohio, staying in casino resorts and high-rate hotels, ordering room service, and paying extra for upgraded seating on flights — all on the taxpayers' dime.
Such was the case in November of 2016 when Myer attended the National League of Cities City Summit in Pittsburgh, along with city council members Anthony Daisy, Bernadine St. Cyr, Kirk White, Vernell Davis, and Kurt Kellerman. City credit card statements indicate Myer purchased his plane ticket with "preferred seating" for $626, which was more than the cost of airfare for council members White and St. Cyr combined.
It seems the mayor was the only one flying in luxury for that trip as all the council members flew in standard coach seats, paying no more than about $380 for any one airline ticket.
Though Councilwoman Bernadine St. Cyr saved the taxpayers some money on airfare by finding a flight to Pittsburgh for only $219, she attended the NLC summit for only one full day while there. Credit card statements indicate she spent an additional $50 in checked baggage fees and ordered $38 in room service at the Westin Hotel in Pittsburgh, despite having already paid an additional $165 to attend a conference luncheon and "evening out."
City Hall had no record of St. Cyr having submitted an itemized receipt for her purchase of a room service meal. The councilwoman's one-day getaway, in total, cost the citizens of New Roads at least $1,300.
When asked about their frequent conference hopping, most of the council members and staff said the same thing: that they learn a lot of useful things by attending conferences.
St. Cyr would not elaborate on certain items she purchased with taxpayer money, saying only that the conference and hotel prices are set by the conference organizers. She added that she doesn't physically have possession of a city credit card.
However, according to the NLC registration forms, attendees may choose whether to pay extra to attend special luncheons and order room service.
St. Cyr is not the first New Roads leader to order room service on the taxpayers' dime. In June of 2016, Myer attended a conference in Phoenix along with public works director, Sal Rinaudo. While staying at the Hyatt for two nights, the pair spent $164 in hotel dining. Again, no itemized receipts were on record at City Hall. The lack of itemized receipts or documentation to help explain why certain purchases were made is rampant among the credit card expenditure records at City Hall.
For instance, New Roads Secretary/Treasurer Lynette Nelson purchased five book racks on Amazon for just over $1,000 in June of 2016, then paid an additional $418 to have two of them sent via expedited shipping. Nowhere in the records was there any indication why the city so urgently needed book racks.
Similarly, during that same summer, Nelson purchased books from Amazon for $26 and spent nearly $300 on a tour of Mardi Gras World.
For the year of 2016, New Roads leaders billed taxpayers more than $9,000 for flights, hotel stays, restaurants, furniture, Walmart shopping, tourist attractions, Halloween decorations, and other items, all of which lacked itemized receipts or supporting documentation to justify the expenses.
In a more recent case this past July, the then-mayor used $700 in taxpayer money to buy a "2-hour party" from a Georgia company called Rush Cube. No other information was indicated on the sales receipt.
In fact, every credit card expenditure for the month of July of 2017 is vague and lacking supporting documentation to justify the purchase. This includes two hotel stays in Houma for four nights each, a 5-night hotel stay in Alexandria, a 2-night stay in New Orleans, and five hotel rooms in Shreveport, each booked for a different number of nights by different people, including Myer, Nelson, Daisy, and other city staff members.
For the 9-month period of January to September of 2017, credit card expenditures that had either no itemized receipts or lacked justifying documentation totaled $5,700.
In other cases, town officials purchased hotel stays for conferences located well within normal driving distances of New Roads, such as Nelson's 2-night stay at the Hilton in Baton Rouge last September for the Keep Louisiana Beautiful conference. Baton Rouge is about a 30-mile drive from New Roads. "I would certainly think that Baton Rouge is certainly a distance you can commute," Councilman Kirk White said in an interview last week.
White was the only New Roads official who agreed to speak openly and elaborate on the suspicious spending. White agreed with other officials about the value of the conferences, saying he does learn a lot whenever he gets to attend. Nevertheless, he said he doesn't feel it's necessary to attend two NLC conferences in one year as several other city leaders have done.
"I don't think I need it twice a year," he said. "I can get what I need, I think, about every other year."
White was surprised with several of the vague credit card purchases when the 9News Investigators showed him the city's records. He said the council members rarely receive such details since they do not have authority to meddle in the daily affairs of the administration.
Nevertheless, White said he plans to investigate the expenses.
"I'm going to say that things need to improve and change is in order," he said. "There are some things we need to take a serious look at and put some policies and procedures in place to where this does not happen again."