Clerk Candidate Dana Benson says Whistleblower complaint about her past financial failures are correct, but the experience has made her stronger
A whistleblower at the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office released a series of documents to the media Thursday that raise questions about one candidate’s ability to manage the office’s nearly $5 million budget.
The whistleblower provided the media documents from the Clerk of Court’s office that indicate that Dana Benson has had a tough time dealing with her personal finances, which might be a concern since her money managment experience is questionable.
Benson is one of three candidates for the Clerk’s office in the October 12th election.
When contacted about the Whistleblower claims, Benson told the Free Press Sunday, that she has an idea who the whistleblower is, understands the concern, but does not take issue with the claims because they happened during a period in her life that was challenging, and had to finally be resolved with a bankruptcy.
“It happened. It’s true,” she said, but she has learned from that experience.
Benson has made her 21 years experience in the Clerk’s office and her business and accounting experience the centerpiece of her campaign. The Clerk of Court has a lucrative package of salary, perks, and benefits that amounts to $235,000 a year.
The documents provided by the whistleblower include an arrest warrant for issuing worthless checks, court judgments for unpaid debts, and suspicious lawsuits.
My concern is this, “If she cannot manage her own personal finances, how can she manage a $5 million corporation,” said the Whistleblower prefacing the packet of documents submitted to the media that include:
–A Warrant issued on September 19, 2005, for her arrest on charges of issuing worthless checks. A $1,000 bond was set.
–A 4th District Court Judgment to Ouachita Credit Plan, Inc. in 2005 for $5,739.97
–A 4th District Court Judgment for $4,605.12 to the West Monroe City Employees Federal Credit Union in 1997. The judgment was satisfied two years later and canceled in July of 1999.
–A 4th District Court Judgment for $4,708.75 to D.R.E.K. Gaming, Inc. Benson did not answer the suit and a judgment was issued in January of 1998.
–A state Tax lien was filed against her in April of 2000 in the amount of $729.83.
Also included in the packet of documents were several lawsuits filed by Benson, some of which were settled.
In May of 2006, Douglas Benson, Jr., her husband, reportedly sat in a chair at ULM’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum and the chair “collapsed, due to it being defective or in disrepair, causing Benson to fall and injure himself. She and her husband sued ULM; she included herself in the claim noting that his injury caused her “loss of consortium and society.” ULM’s insurance carrier settled the claim.
In 2010 Benson filed a similar claim against Church’s Chicken. In the suit, she claimed that she “sat down in a chair to wait for her meal in order to eat when suddenly and without warning, a bolt fell from the bottom of the chair causing it to fall backward causing bodily injury. She represented herself in this suit. The suit was filed too late and did not proceed. There was no settlement
The whistleblower said in a written letter, “People have the right to know, so they can make the right decision for the clerk of court’s office.”
Benson said an eight year period of her life between 1997 and 2005 threw her family’s finances out of balance, caused mainly by the illness of her husband Douglas Benson causing her to default in several loans.
Benson, 53, said her troubles began when her husband, who is twenty years her senior, suddenly declined. It threw their perfectly balance life out of order and she struggled to stand by him and manage her affairs at the same time.
“During this time my husband’s health was on the decline and we were over extended. Somehow or another there was a glitch between me and the bank, a glitch with me. It just took me a little bit to get it all lined back out. If you get in a hole you gotta dig out.”
The claims are real
She said the arrest warrant for issuing worthless checks was real, but was dropped when it was learned that she had paid an outstanding debt on her car in cash to clear a check, but another party involved was not notified that the cash payment had been made. Once clarified, the charged was dropped, she said.
Before she could solve one problem others occured. Creditors were knocking on her door.
She said suits were filed and judgments began to pile up, causing she and her husband to close their business. When they closed their business it prompted another suit from the Gaming Company .
Their business had several gaming machines that paid out more money than they took in. She said casino owners took care of payments to customers, but the gaming company expected her to stay in business long enough to make back what was paid out. It sued her because she closed the business owing them.
“My husband has had three heart attacks, triple bypass surgury, and a stint,” said Benson. “In January, he went into congestive heart failure.”
She said, battling to keep her husband alive has been her main focus,
Even during her campaign for Clerk of Court, he’s been hospitalized four times. She says however, that should she be elected his condition would not be a distraction from her public service because he may not live long.
“Where he’s at right now, he’s either going to live maybe another year or he’s going to have an Lvalve, a mechanical heart, placed in his heart,” she said.
She said he has not decided what he will do.
With the operation he may have another “ten plus years,” either way his condition will not be more of a distraction “than it is right now.”
She said the period of financial insolvency of her life is history, although her husband is still battling with heart disease.
Concerning the whistleblower’s complaint she said, “I’m like this. If I did it, I’m going to tell you I did it. I think we’ve all at times made mistakes that we regret, but you can’t change it. It is what you got. I can’t change it. Did I try to hide it? Nope. It is what it is. I will tell everybody, I messed up, but I learned. If you can’t grow from your mistakes, what?”
Struck a Balance
Benson said her personal finances are under control now because she has struck a balance between her public service and care for her husband “who is my life.”
She is confident that anyone who has faced the catastrophic illness of a loved one will understand how the initial impact of such illnesses can suddenly impact your finances for a period of time.
For Benson, Bankruptcy was her way out. Without new debt, she has remained solvent and is focused on her service to the Clerk’s Office.
If elected. she wants to modernize the office’s computer software to use one system rather than the two systems presently in use. She also wants to make the office completely accessible without an access fee, but only charge when documents are ordered. She wants to complete the digitizing of the office’s oldest records as well as make the office more reflective of the parish’s racial makeup when hiring staff.
Benson feels that her personal challenges have worked to make her a better person. She says, she is still the only one of the three candidates who knows the operation of the office, its systems, weaknesses, and strengths.
As for the Whistleblower, she said she has a pretty good idea who “she” is, but does not plan any retribution “when” she is elected. She said the complainant has a legitimate concern and is part of a wonderful staff.