Authement "considering options" on UL's horse farm, contract work questioned and more
AUTHEMENT "CONSIDERING OPTIONS" ON HORSE FARM DEAL

UL President Ray Authement confirmed to The Independent Weekly that he pushed back the Lafayette City-Parish Council's vote on the rezoning of the Johnston Street horse farm to consider other options, including C-P President Joey Durel's desire to turn it into a community park.

The council was scheduled to vote on the issue in January, but the university asked to push the vote to March 1. The university has proposed to rezone 36 acres from residential to commercial, a request the Zoning Commission denied, and swap them for 4 acres on Girard Park Drive. The proposal has faced widespread community opposition ranging from those fighting the inequity of the swap to others hoping to preserve the green space.

Through university spokeswoman Julie Dronet, Authement says he and Durel are in discussions. The two met Monday, Jan. 9.

"He pretty much laid out what his needs were," Durel says. "Now we need to figure out if we can, as a community and Lafayette Consolidated Government, come up with some solutions for him." Local government is identifying properties it owns near campus ' in addition to the 8-acre Youth Park ' that might assist UL with its growth requirements.

Influential business leaders from various sectors have stepped forward to donate their time and resources to convert at least a portion of the 100-acre tract into a park ("Field of Dreams," Dec. 21). Thanks to local civil engineer Keith Delhomme, the San-Francisco based Trust for Public Land wants to help as well. In December Delhomme made contact with Larry Schmidt, who heads the New Orleans office of the national nonprofit land conservation group.

"The role TPL could play â?¦ is acquire the land and hold it while the funding is being assembled," Schmidt says. Through its federal affairs department in Washington, D.C., TPL will also help identify federal funds that may be available for the project.

Founded in 1972, the group has saved more than 3 million acres across the country for parks, community gardens, historic sites and other natural places, according to Schmidt, who believes UL's horse farm is a perfect fit for his organization's work. "It's an incredible opportunity for Lafayette to potentially have a 'central park,'" Schmidt says. "We will be taking our lead from [Durel]." ' Leslie Turk

CONTRACT WORK QUESTIONED

At least one state lawmaker feels that federal hurricane relief contracts are getting out of control. When he gets the opportunity during the upcoming special session, Houma Republican Rep. Gordon Dove says he might pursue legislation to address growing concerns about "fly-by-night" contractors conducting federal work.

"A lot of contractors are coming into this state and getting work from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and others without ever getting insurance or workers comp or anything," Dove says. "They use all these subcontractors that are local, and then the subcontractors are having to hunt them down to get paid."

Dove is also curious about whether the federal government is taking the time to get competitive prices, "because Louisiana ends up having to pay a portion of that bill," he says. Although Dove says he doesn't have a particular dog in this fight, companies he has at least part ownership in have collected roughly $75,000 from federal hurricane relief contracts since Hurricane Katrina made landfall. ' Jeremy Alford

SHE WHO LIVES IN GLASS HOUSES â?¦

Last summer, Louisiana Public Broadcasting President Beth Courtney, as a member of the national board of Corporation for Public Broadcasting, claimed the moral high ground in voting against CPB President Patricia Harrison because of Harrison's potential conflicts of interest as a former chair of the Republican National Committee. (Last year, a majority of Republicans were in favor of cutting CPB's federal subsidy.) But Courtney apparently doesn't apply the same standards when it comes to her own conflicts of interest.

Last week, the state ethics board handed down a $10,000 fine to Courtney and her husband Bob, who runs the Baton Rouge public relations and video production company Courtney Communications. From 2000-2003, Courtney Communications performed $48,869 worth of work for a company with LPB contracts ' payments Beth Courtney approved. State ethics law prohibits public servants, like the LPB president, from overseeing contracts or subcontracts with immediate family members. ' Nathan Stubbs

DAILY ADVERTISER SCREW-UP OF THE WEEK

All we can hope is that The Daily Advertiser editorial staff is psychic. In a front-page banner headline on Monday, Jan. 16, the Advertiser announced, "Former Cajun Going to Super Bowl: Delhomme's Panthers head to championship." There's just one small problem: Delhomme and the Panthers still need to beat the Seattle Seahawks this weekend in the NFC title game in order to advance to the Super Bowl. ' Scott Jordan

WORKER'S COMP AGAINST THE WALL

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has signed into law a number of executive orders since Hurricane Katrina that contain several provisions that don't necessarily need legislative approval. One such workers' comp measure was recently extended until Feb. 28 for Orleans and Jefferson parishes, and it has some execs scratching their heads. If workers' compensation claimants fail to submit to a medical examination under normal law, or end up with unfavorable results from those tests, the employer can suspend their benefits and payments. But that provision has been on hold for Orleans and Jefferson since September due to the thousands of displaced workers. So Louisiana businesses may have been paying out fraudulent claims in recent months. And without medical examinations, the companies will never know.

According to Cherie Pinac, general counsel for LWCC, the state's largest workers' compensation carrier, there's very little that can be done about it. "That's the tricky part because you can't go back against the plaintiff after they've received their benefits," Pinac says. "I don't know how this is going to play out." For now, Pinac says most companies are willing to chalk up the losses as hurricane-related, as there was very little they could do about an executive order. In fact, Pinac says industry worked closely with the administration when the original decision was made. ' JA

BUSINESS LOBBY QUESTIONS LRA

Lawmakers aren't the only ones grumbling about who will have ultimate control over the spending of $6.2 billion in disaster relief money. It arrived recently as part of a federal block grant, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco wants the Louisiana Recovery Authority to have oversight of the cash ' she created the commission herself last fall, handpicking the members. Lawmakers are already sparring over the decision, and many want some kind of say in the process before it heads back to the feds for final approval. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the state's most influential lobbies, finds fault with the seemingly one-sided approach as well.

Dan Juneau, LABI president, writes in his most recent weekly column that the governor may be using commissions to "avoid making hard choices." In short, the LRA might not be the best way to go, according to LABI. "It is time for the Legislature and the governor to earn their keep," Juneau writes. "They need to make tough choices about how to spend precious dollars and cut elements in the budget that can no longer be afforded. They shouldn't hide behind commissions or excuses. And the voters need to judge them critically on the decisions they make." ' JA

RETHINKING THE MEGA-SHELTER

Cajundome Director Greg Davis will be in Washington, D.C., this week to help lobby on behalf of an association of arena managers who want better policies in place for instances where venues are forced to convert into American Red Cross shelters.

Davis, alongside the president and executive director of the International Association of Assembly Managers, will be meeting with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the American Red Cross Jan. 18.

Above all, Davis says, the goal of this meeting is to get top officials with the Red Cross and FEMA "to acknowledge that there is a critical role for the facility manager in the operation of a mega shelter.

"Up to Hurricane Katrina," Davis notes, "there was no acknowledgement of that. The premise was the facility manager and his or her staff would just step aside and then Red Cross would step in there and run the shelter operation."

He says Katrina proved the Red Cross needed the expertise of facility managers and their staff in order to successfully run a large-scale shelter. "Based on what we have experienced, we are going to be telling them that they must adjust their policies."

Davis was appointed co-chairman of a shelter task force by the IAAM last month. He says the task force aims to have a new policy worked out with FEMA and the Red Cross by March 31 and have new best-practice guidelines developed for its members by April 30, with everything in place for the start of this year's hurricane season in June. The bulk of the task force is comprised of Gulf Coast venue operators who deal with annual hurricane threats, but the new procedure guidelines would apply nationally for arena shelters operating in the wake of any disaster, including earthquakes and terrorist incidents. ' NS

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