Elected official violates bid law purchasing ritzy rides
PLAQUEMINE - If you drive a vehicle less than $60,000, does it anger you that an elected official used your tax money to purchase two luxury vehicles totaling nearly $110,000?
Iberville Parish Assessor Randy Sexton is under fire tonight after the WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered he violated the public bid law. The State's public bid law is designed to save taxpayers money. In this case, that didn't happen as the lavish vehicle purchases circumvented state laws.
It centers on the $60,000 purchase of a 2015 Ford F-250 Platinum Edition Super Duty truck. Another Super Duty truck from 2012 was under a lease purchase agreement for nearly $1,000 per month. Both trucks were driven off the lot without going through the state's public bid law.
The truck belongs to the Iberville Parish Assessor's Office and is driven by Assessor Randy Sexton. The truck has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a $61,000 vehicle, including the word "platinum" stitched on the leather seats. Our cameras also spotted a fishing reel inside, and a heavy duty tow hitch attached to the rear of the truck.
When asked what made Sexton decide on that particular truck, he responded "nothing more than preference, personal preference."
Randy Sexton's personal preferences cost you a pricey penny. In 2012, Sexton signed a lease-to-buy agreement on a similar truck, a white Ford F-250 Super Duty. It's a "hand me down" driven by his Deputy Assessor Clint Seneca. The agreement costs taxpayers approximately $1,000 per month.
So we had to ask why the Assessor and his deputy need F-250's.
"I totally understand that logic," Sexton said. "I know legally there's nothing there and looked at what type vehicles we could get no doubt we could get lesser vehicles, but it was just personal choice."
However, documents the Investigative Unit obtained show Sexton did not follow the state's public bid law. The law clearly says purchases totaling $30,000 or more must be bid out, including being advertised in a newspaper twice. Sexton did not do that, instead claiming he called local dealerships looking for prices. He could not provide the Investigative Unit with the quotes he received, and bought both trucks from a dealership near Lafayette.
"It was an oversight on my part," Sexton said. "I did not go through the bid process. I realized it after the fact."
The way both trucks were purchased concerns state auditors.
"The bid law is set up to save taxpayers as much money to possibly save, to use funds appropriately and wisely and when we don't bid something that should be bid, it's not only a violation of the law, there's also potential that we've misused public funds," Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said.
Purpera said even leased vehicles that look like purchases still need to be bid.
"Certainly a $60,000 vehicle when we get to that range, it seems abnormal for a public official to be driving a $60,000 vehicle," he said.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit checked other parishes and found Sexton and his Deputy Assessor have the nicest rides out of all area parish assessors:
East Baton Rouge - The assessor drives a 2013 Chevy Tahoe, and the Deputy Assessor has an eight-year-old Chevy Impala.
West Baton Rouge - The assessor drives a Buick Lacrosse. There's no car for the Deputy.
Livingston - The assessor drives a 2014 Toyota Tundra. The Deputy does not get a vehicle.
Ascension Parish does not use taxpayer-funded cars for their assessor and does not even provide them with an allowance.
"As a public official, when we take these jobs, we take them with a fiduciary duty to use public funds wisely and not misuse funds," Purpera said. "In this case, that could have been violated."
News 2 asked Sexton if he thought his purchases were a wise use of taxpayer money.
"Well, second-guessing everything now, maybe it wasn't a wise choice, but we're crying over spilled milk now," Sexton said.
That spill worries the Legislative Auditor, though, whose office is now investigating.
"As public officials, we need to know the law and the laws that deal with our offices so I think we owe it to the public, public trust that we operate these jobs in accordance with the law," Purpera said.
The Iberville Parish Assessor says when the lease is up on the older truck and it's time to replace his new truck, he plans on taking a monthly allowance of $1,000 instead of driving around a parish vehicle. According to Purpera, since a public vehicle is used for personal purposes, Sexton and his deputy must also claim that on their taxes. Purpera says depending on the findings of his investigation, the case could be turned over to prosecutors.
It's unclear how long that investigation will take.