Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By Leslie Turk
HUD capitulates, paying two former housing assistance contractors 40 grand.
“Ridiculous.” That’s what longtime Lafayette Housing Authority attorney Daniel Stanford says of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s decision to settle lawsuits — quietly, had local news media not asked last Wednesday — by two former contractors who worked on the controversial Disaster Housing Assistance Program.
Linda Jefferson and Myra Parker, who were terminated Aug. 13, 2010, as Lafayette Housing Authority DHAP case managers along with three other workers, filed separate suits for back pay. Both said they were terminated without cause and were not given the 30-day notification required by their written contracts — which, as Stanford succinctly pointed out after the first suit was filed late last year, had long since expired and were never renewed. Jefferson also sued for defamation of character.
And without so much as putting up a fight, HUD and the LHA settled and paid them a whopping $40,000. “The Housing Authority of Lafayette (HACL) recently settled lawsuits brought against it by Linda Jefferson ($10,000) and Myra Parker ($30,000). The settlements have been paid,” HUD Regional Public Affairs Officer Patricia A. Campbell wrote in an email response to The Independent last Wednesday.
“While the Housing Authority is confident it would have prevailed in court, the HA chose to settle, on the advice of its legal counsel, because the cost of continued litigation would have exceeded the amount of the settlements. HACL’s focus is on moving forward, and providing the best possible services to residents and the community.”
Say what? No wonder former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams wants “his money” too. He filed suit Aug. 12, seeking $19,560.
Stanford, who has represented the LHA for 12 years, is not the “legal counsel” who advised settling the cases. Rather, the unidentified counsel is likely a law firm hired by LHA’s insurance company.
Jefferson, Parker and Williams, along with Beatrice Wilson (aka Porsha Evans) and Charlie Esie, were hired in 2007 to work on the disaster housing program, which was created to help people displaced by hurricanes. The workers were terminated by the LHA board in August 2010, on the recommendation of Stanford and then-Executive Director Walter Guillory, after an audit pointed out numerous deficiencies in how the program was conducted and managed. For example, when the LHA’s 2009 books were reviewed, auditors found that the case managers were paid a hefty $37/hour for 40 hours each week (along with a monthly $600 car allowance) but were not turning in time sheets or any other supporting documentation of their work.
Some of the contractors had other jobs; Williams had multiple jobs including a full-time position at UL Lafayette. In large part due to the troubled DHAP, the LHA got the attention of the state legislative auditor, inspector general for HUD, which funds the DHAP, and the FBI. The housing agency has been embroiled in controversies of alleged corruption and mismanagement for the past year, with HUD now running its day-to-day operations.
In their suits, the former workers (the clerk’s office had no record of suits filed against the housing authority by Wilson and Esie) include a copy of the contracts they signed with LHA, documents that shows the contracts ending in March 2010, five months before they were terminated. They also include a letter from FEMA and HUD stating that funding for the program would be extended to Oct. 31, 2010. Yet the written contracts with the LHA were never renewed.
Attorney Stanford makes his position on the matter clear: After March 31 the DHAP workers were operating as independent contractors without a contract and subject to termination at any time, with or without cause. “Basically, the contracts lapsed,” he says. “They were kind of on an as-needed basis.”
The discrepancy in what Jefferson and Parker were paid and what Williams is seeking remains a mystery, as all three were paid the same amount and terminated the same day.
In her February 2011 suit, Parker argues that Louisiana law states that a contract of employment may be written or oral and maintains that LHA former deputy director, Jonathan Carmouche, verbally extended the contract. But Stanford says Carmouche was not empowered or authorized to issue any extensions, and maintains that while verbal contracts are valid in Louisiana, once a written contract is in place, any extensions must also be written. He says a simple written addendum to the contract is all that was needed to make it valid.
Parker says in the lawsuit that if she had been paid until Oct. 31, 2010, she would have received $16,280 but then argues that because the LHA failed to comply with the provisions of R.S. 23:631, she is entitled to 90 days of wages at the rate of $296 per day.
And while it’s arguable that the real legal world often works that way, a taxpayer-funded organization like the LHA should not favor expediency over what’s right, Stanford says. Stanford also fears that HUD’s decision to settle these matters rather than litigate — at what he believes would have been a substantially lower cost — sets a dangerous precedent. “You encourage other people to bring frivolous lawsuits,” he says.
Case in point: Williams. Stanford, however, believes HUD will view this lawsuit differently. “It sounds to me like there was some element of fraud. If not fraud, deception,” Stanford says in reference to Williams’ work on the DHAP. In accounting for more than 90 hours that overlapped between his jobs at UL and contract work he performed for the LHA, Williams has claimed that employees of his nonprofit training center also worked on the program. But Stanford says that won’t fly. “Chris is the one who signed the contract. How can a non-profit make a profit? Chris was doing this for profit.”
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.
With her political future in jeopardy, Sen. Mary Landrieu is turning to a natural constituent base in her re-election bid.
Terrance Broadway threw for a touchdown and rushed for 113 yards to lead Louisiana-Lafayette to a 34-10 victory over Texas State on Tuesday night.
Aligned with the party of an unpopular president, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu sought to keep her distance from the Obama administration, against claims from her chief Republican challenger Bill Cassidy that a vote to re-elect the Democratic incumbent was a vote for Barack Obama.
Seven people in Louisiana and two others in Mississippi have been arrested in connection with an international online sales scam.
Despite the hype and potential misinformation to have spread in the wake of Mark Cockerham’s recent departure from the LPSB, his candidacy for reelection is still on — now with the backing of the Chamber's Empower PAC.