Greg Gachassin’s role in Lafayette’s low-income housing fiasco appears headed for a state ethics investigation, but what price will he pay — if any at all? by Leslie Turk
Development consultant Greg Gachassin’s potential ethics dilemma won’t end with The Independent Weekly’s April 20 cover story, “How Gachassin Games the System.” And it shouldn’t.
That report revealed that the low-income housing fiasco that has been dogging Lafayette since last summer, and which led to a federal investigation of the Lafayette Housing Authority, involves some very well-connected local professionals. And at least one of them, Gachassin, appears to have violated the state’s Code of Governmental Ethics.
The Louisiana Board of Ethics is now compelled to take the matter up, because on May 2 state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who helped blow the whistle on the LHA’s troubles, lodged a formal complaint. “It would seem as if Mr. Gachassin has violated the ethics laws of the State of Louisiana while serving as chairman and member of the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority... [and] appears to have been in ethics violation even after his resignation from the [LPTFA],” Hardy wrote to the state’s top ethics administrator, Kathleen Allen.
The LPTFA is a trust organized under the laws of the state that holds millions for the benefit of Lafayette Consolidated Government. Gachassin, while serving as a Lafayette City-Parish Council-appointee on the public trust’s board, helped orchestrate low-income housing deals in north Lafayette that involved both LPTFA funding and federal low-income housing tax credits. He then signed on as a development consultant for two of them, Villa Gardens and Cypress Trails, while still on the public trust’s board or within weeks of his Nov. 17, 2009, resignation. (Gachassin also stands to earn a $1 million consulting fee for Joie de Vivre, a downtown affordable housing complex partially funded by LPTFA.)
The state’s ethics code appears clear on this “post-employment” restriction: After leaving a public board, you must wait two years before engaging in a transaction, for compensation, that involves the board. The definition of transaction is broad, covering just about anything the governmental entity is a party to or has an interest in. In the case of Cypress Trails, LPTFA — at Gachassin’s urging — spearheaded the $10 million project.
Gachassin’s cut on the Villa Gardens and Cypress Trails developments? More than 1 million bucks (he gets about half of the developer fee).
With the story out for more than a week before Hardy’s complaint and the fact that an ethics board member, attorney M. Blake Monrose, lives right here in Lafayette, we’d like to think Hardy’s letter came long after a decision was made to look into this matter.
After all, this state set the “gold standard of ethics” back in 2008, right Gov. Jindal?
For her part, Allen would neither confirm nor deny if her office received Hardy’s complaint or any others, as such complaints are confidential. “Generally speaking, when a complaint is received by our office, it is presented to the Board of Ethics at one of its monthly meetings for consideration in executive session,” she says. “If the board refers the matter to investigation, the subject of the investigation is given notice, and a confidential investigation is conducted by a staff investigator. The investigator gathers the facts, and a report is presented back to the board for consideration in executive session to determine whether a violation of the Code of Governmental Ethics occurred and what action should be taken.”
What’s most appalling in what appears to be a flagrant ethics violation is that the LPTFA’s attorney, Richard Becker, allowed it to take place right under his nose. The attorney told this newspaper he felt it was Gachassin’s responsibility to conduct his due diligence on the issue and said he took Gachassin’s word — knowing full well the LPTFA board member had a million reasons to clear himself. Becker, more than anyone, was aware of Gachassin’s duplicity: The attorney himself also represents each of Gachassin’s developments and is special counsel to the LHA (Villa Gardens is an LHA development; in the wake of the LHA controversy, Becker et al kicked the housing authority out of Cypress Trails). Additionally, Becker is an assistant city-parish attorney.
If an investigation is pursued and finds that Gachassin broke the code, he can be ordered to pay up to $10,000 per violation. Additionally, Allen says, there can be enhanced penalties for economic gain — meaning he can be forced to pay back the full amount of his economic advantage plus one half. Contracts can also be rescinded.
We’d argue that anything less would surely make Louisiana’s “gold standard of ethics” mere fool’s gold.
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.