Vehicle purchase creates tension in UPPJ

By Luke Britt/Editor

The purchase of a truck for the Union Parish Office of Homeland Security has renewed tensions between the President of the Union Parish Police Jury and members of the committee that manages the parish’s vehicle fleet.

Jury President Brenda Abercrombie, on Dec. 4, approved and signed a purchase order for 2022 Ford F-250 crew cab at a cost of $57,373.94, which members of the jury’s equipment committee said she did without consulting them. The jurors also said they considered the request for a new truck for Homeland Security and determined it wasn’t needed.

Abercrombie said the juror’s are overreacting to a purchase she said is “absolutely” needed. The current Homeland Security director, Shannon Futch, has been using his own truck since taking over the job late last year, she said.

“They may not know because they weren’t out there with him (during the aftermath of the Dec. 2022 tornados), but I was,” Abercrombie said. “His truck is not four-wheel drive and couldn’t even get to some places he needed to.”

Abercrombie said that, following those tornados, she and others used their four-wheel drive vehicles to deliver water and other necessities to places throughout the parish that Futch’s vehicle couldn’t access.

Juror Ben Bridges, who sits on the equipment committee, said he was primarily concerned about the fact that Abercrombie approved the purchase without consulting other members of the jury.

“The president has the authority to sign purchase orders but not without consulting the whole jury,” Bridges said. “If she thinks (Homeland Security) needs a new truck, ok, we can talk about that, but the power to sign purchase orders doesn’t mean she can do so without our approval.”

Current Police Jury policy gives the president and the chairman of the finance committee authority to sign purchase orders on behalf of the parish and does not require the full jury to approve the purchases beforehand.

Abercrombie said she did speak to jury members on more than one occasion during the past months about the need to purchase the vehicle, and that an agreement had been reached to provide Homeland Security with a crew cab, four-wheel drive truck the parish already owns when one became available.  However, when such a vehicle became available, it was given to another department, she said.

Nathan Pilgreen, who also sits on the equipment committee, said part of his concern stems from Homeland Security’s unique administrative hierarchy, in which the office answers directly to the Police Jury president and not the entire jury.

“I am concerned about the lack of transparency in the Homeland Security budget. While that office is, technically, only required to report to the president, I think the entire jury should be included on any major decisions made that affect our budget. It is, after all, the responsibility of the entire jury to ensure we are spending our tax dollar’s wisely.”

Juror L.W. Nolan, who also serves on the Jury’s equipment committee, said he also believes Abercrombie should have discussed the purchase with the rest of the jury in an open meeting before authorizing the expenditure of parish funds.

Abercrombie said that, while parish funds initially may be used to purchase the vehicle, ultimately, it will be paid for with state or federal funds.

“I would never spend that much parish money without bringing it to the whole jury,” Abercrombie said. “We may pay for it initially, but we’ll be reimbursed by GOHSEP funds like we always are for Homeland Security.”

GOHSEP is the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, which manages millions of dollars of Homeland Security funds allocated by the federal government to Louisiana. GOHSEP currently pays virtually all expenses associated with the Union Parish Office of Homeland Security, Abercrombie said. The parish typically covers the office’s expenses as needed and is later reimbursed by GOHSEP, she said.

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