Audit of French Market parking lots questions $130,000 in expenses

Jim Huger ORG XMIT: BAT1402111421505199
Jim Huger ORG XMIT: BAT1402111421505199

A month after the French Market Corp. decided to take over direct management of three parking lots it owns, city officials Friday released an audit that found more than $130,000 of “questionable expenses” billed to the city agency by the company that has been managing the lots.

The bulk of that sum, about $110,000, went to salaries and wages earned by administrative employees of Standard Parking who were “not directly employed at the premises,” according to the auditing firm Pailet, Meunier and LeBlanc LLP.

Those red flags may explain why the French Market’s board has decided to allow its contract with Standard Parking to expire at the end of the month and to take over management of the lots itself.

It’s not clear whether the agency intends to try to reclaim any of the questioned billings. Jon Smith, the French Market’s new executive director, said in a statement, “We have not finished our review of the audit with legal counsel.”

The audit’s findings appear to roughly match up with accusations brought by another parking company that tried to win the contract from Standard in a competitive bidding process last year.

At the time, Jim Huger, the owner of Premium Parking, circulated to board members what he said was evidence that Standard had been charging for expenses that fell outside of the terms of its contract.

Huger also accused the French Market’s interim executive director at the time, Ann Duplessis, of pushing to retain Standard because of that company’s political connections, even though Huger said Premium’s bid was lower. Duplessis denied favoritism and said Huger’s bid left out important expenses that would have made his offer less lucrative to the board than Standard’s.

Whatever the case, the audit shows various expenses charged by Standard that appeared to fall outside of what was allowable under the company’s deal with the French Market, either because they should have been covered under Standard’s flat, $700-per-month management fee or because they were related to work not directly performed at the lots.

Aside from salaries and wages paid to staff who did not work at the three parking lots in question — all located in or near the French Quarter — the audit singled out $1,277 in travel reimbursements and $1,373 in reimbursements for the use of personal cellphones.