Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Written by Leslie Turk
An audit revealing abuses in the Lafayette Housing Authority helped uncover former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams’ lucrative and super-human workload, but it also pulled back the sheets on much bigger problems with LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory’s stewardship of the agency.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to do the math on this one. Forty plus 40 equals 80. Last week The Independent Weekly uncovered the number of hours former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams has been getting paid to work every week since at least August 2008 — splitting his time between the Special Services Department at UL Lafayette and as a contractor for the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program, which is administered by the Lafayette Housing Authority.
Williams’ work ethic was brought to light as a result of a recent independent audit on the LHA, an audit that led state and federal officials to investigate the program, referred to as DHAP.
|Longtime LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory made
$253,000 in 2009 working for both the Opelousas and
Lafayette housing authorities, where recent audits point to
numerous problems in how those agencies are run.
But wait, there’s more. After last week’s story reporting Williams’ hectic work schedule, we learned that in January he secured a third government-funded contract, this one between his not-for-profit Lafayette Training and Career Development Center and SMILE Community Action Agency, funded by $65,000 in federal stimulus money. By our count, that’s close to $200,000 a year he gets from government-funded entities (his own financial statement for the training and career center discloses $172,000 in grants for 2009).
Williams, who was first elected to the Lafayette City Council in 1992 using the slogan “Serving the Community,” has been masterful at serving himself, hiding the fact that he was pulling off multiple jobs, as no one at the LHA or UL seems to have known he had another 40-hour per week job. Williams is required by UL System policy to annually disclose any outside employment. The form requires employees to report the name and address of the outside employer, a description of the activity and whether it presents any conflict with the employee’s duties at the university or government code of ethics.
On his July 2010-June 2011 disclosure to UL, Williams says he has outside work with a time commitment of 0-20 hours per week with the LTCDC depending on “if company has a contract.” He identifies LTCDC as a nonprofit since 1988.
LHA’s primary responsibility on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/FEMA program was making the residents’ rental assistance payments, along with help on utility payments and security deposits. Residents were also to receive case management services to help them get back on their feet, including financial education, job training or other social services.
Repeated phone calls to Williams at UL and on a DHAP-issued cell phone were not returned.
More appalling than what appears to be an abuse of a program designed to help the down-and-out get back on their feet is the fact that the five case managers’ pay skyrocketed 236 percent from the time of the contracts’ inception in late 2007. Jonathan Carmouche, LHA’s deputy director who makes $85,000 a year and is in charge of the DHAP, says when the workload for case managers increased in 2008 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike, he recommended the existing case managers get more compensation rather than hire more workers. Over the past 2.5 years, their pay increased from $11 an hour to $37. LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory agreed with Carmouche’s recommendation for the increases.
|Auditors pointed out that Jonathan Carmouche, the
LHA's deputy director, earns $85,000 a year but also
struck a deal with his boss, Walter Guillory, to get extra
pay for inspecting homes in the federal Disaster Housing
Neither Carmouche nor Guillory could explain how paying a person more per hour when he or she is already working the maximum 40 hours allowed by the contract would increase productivity or better serve the program’s clients more than hiring additional manpower. The high hourly rate was not lost on the auditors, who noted that the contract rate did not appear to be reasonable based on the program requirements and what others staffers at the LHA make. The auditors also couldn’t understand why workers who are supposed to be paid on an hourly basis were each compensated for 40 hours of work each week, without turning in time sheets.
But that’s not all the auditors questioned.
“In testing five administrative employees’ salaries, it was noted that an employee is receiving extra compensation for additional work completed; however, this information was in a form of a verbal agreement and no written contract/agreement could be reviewed or tested,” they wrote. It turns out Carmouche himself was getting a piece of the DHAP action, inspecting homes in the program “on Saturdays” for $75 a pop, according to Guillory, who approved the extra work. He got an extra $20,000 from the LHA for inspecting homes in six parishes in 2009 and another $11,300 so far this year. He began inspecting DHAP homes in May 2009 (after an inspector became ill and his replacement stopped providing the service, Guillory says); the figures from LHA did not give a breakdown of how much he got from that program alone. Carmouche double-dipping on the DHAP may constitute a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development violation.
While the auditors kicked up a hornet’s nest with the DHAP — also noting that rent reasonableness documentation in the files, if it was in the file, appeared to be fabricated and that some of files themselves had zero supporting documents — they also shined a light on other serious problems with how the LHA conducts business. Last week HUD officials and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor converged on the LHA to investigate some of the findings.
On Friday the DHAP gravy train came to a screeching halt, as the LHA board called a special meeting to hear Guillory’s request to terminate the program. Guillory, in his typical mild demeanor, told the board that HUD officials had pored over the program for three days and were unhappy with “the files, the record-keeping. The conclusion is we were not satisfied with that, as far as the record-keeping of the program.” Guillory explained that the residents on the program would continue to be serviced by the LHA’s existing staff. The program, however, which had an annual budget of $1.8 million, was only cut short by 2.5 months. It was slated to expire Oct. 31.
In defending his agency, Guillory called the DHAP “a whirlwind of a program,” that the Lafayette Housing Authority took over two years after Hurricane Katrina, long after displaced residents were coming to the LHA for assistance, and expanded a year later when hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit in the same season. “It just quadrupled,” he says. “We didn’t get an opportunity to plan effectively.”
But the special meeting also revealed there are only 100 residents remaining on the program, which has been winding down. That’s five full-time case managers for 100 clients.
What’s missing from the board meeting and from Carmouche and Guillory, who until November did double duty as the director of the Opelousas Housing Authority, is the outrage that these abuses happened under their watch. (While board members don’t control the day-to-day activities of the agency, in this case they seem to have been asleep at the wheel.) Guillory doesn’t grasp the magnitude of what this means for his agency or how particularly disturbing these abuses are viewed by taxpayers, many of whom are struggling to make their own rents, pay their own utilities, deal with deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.
Says Guillory, who admits to nothing more than “sloppy” record keeping, “Like any agency, there are improvements that need to be done. You have to rely on the honesty of any contract worker.”
Walter Guillory appears more concerned about his job security than ensuring that abuses like this don’t happen again. And he seems to easily forget that he works for taxpayers and that all of his records are public. On Friday Guillory wouldn’t — actually said he couldn’t — answer very basic questions about his agency and his own compensation. How much money did he make as the director of the Opelousas Housing Authority? “I don’t know.” When did he start working there? “A few years ago.” Two thousand seven? He thinks so.
And what does he make as the LHA executive director. “I don’t know. I don’t open my check,” he says, explaining that his wife handles the family finances.
In his defense, Guillory does have a major job to do. Since 1940, the local housing authority, according to its website, has worked to provide safe, decent, sanitary and affordable housing for Lafayette residents. Guillory oversees the work of about 50 employees and a growing number of contractors.
|Chris Williams, who campaigned for public office
promising to serve the community, has been holding down
at least three government contracts, including a full-time
counseling job at UL Lafayette.
According to the 2009 audit report, HUD provided $14 million to the housing authority last year, which represents 86 percent of its total annual revenue of $16.5 million. Revenue increased by about $3 million in federal grants from 2008 to 2009.
The housing authority’s net assets at Sept. 30, 2009, were $10.7 million, a $726,420 increase over the prior year. Of that amount, about 32 percent, or $3.4 million, is unrestricted net assets available for spending at the LHA’s discretion. These are the monies that can be used to meet the government’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors, according to the audit.
Unquestionably, it’s a mega-agency, but that doesn’t excuse troubling issues auditors reported at the LHA in 2008 and 2009, potentially much more far reaching problems than the more sensational DHAP debacle.
For 2008, auditors noted:
• What appear to be egregious violations of state bid law: Two of three contracts tested had work performed before the contract date and due date for the bids; no dates on bids to determine when they were received; a review of several other contracts for the same vendor, Anderson Iron Works, revealed that all work was done before contract date and bid due date; of the 30 contract files all but four or five were awarded to Anderson Iron Works, the low bidder on almost every single contract — though the work was done before the bids were due.
• More than $660 in late fees to LUS. The auditors noted a letter from the city reminding the housing authority to make payments on time or risk disconnection.
• Improper payment of $9,450 in incentives to employees — per HUD regs, the authority can pay incentives to employees only if authority is ranked as a “High Performer.” The LHA is ranked as a “Standard Performer.”
• The LHA failed to file required HUD reports about providing job training, employment and contract opportunities for low- or very-low income residents despite being told the reports needed to be filed in the prior year’s audit.
• The grant coordinator for the HUD Capital Fund Program submitted time sheets for working five days a week but was only at the LHA for 2.5 days a week (the employee was working two days a week on contract with the Opelousas Housing Authority), resulting in an overpayment of $5,170 over 15 pay periods.
Guillory says the LHA corrects problems as soon as the auditors point them out. He maintains that the grant coordinator for the Capital Fund Program, cited above for the state bid law violations and for submitting falsified time sheets when she was working in Opelousas, was terminated. “I took action,” he says. Her separation date was Jan. 29, 2009, but auditors that year later found more problems with the bid process on some of the LHA’s contracts and also cited a number of Capital Fund Program deficiencies.
Additionally, in both reports the auditors noted that the housing authority’s accounting department had experienced significant turnover and was still understaffed. Guillory says the accounting department is now fully staffed.
For 2009, auditors noted:
• The LHA bypasses check-signing policy, which requires manual signatures for all checks in excess of $5,000. “The Housing Authority will reduce payments or split the transaction in order to be able to process the check without a manual signature,” the auditors wrote.
• Of 41 resident files tested, 10 did not have a Disaster Information System printout in the file or a letter from FEMA, making it impossible to determine if the resident qualified for the DHAP.
• The LHA received funding through a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Louisiana Department of the Treasury for design plans for an improved foundation on affordable housing homes to withstand hurricane force winds but used the money instead for rezoning costs for the St. Antoine development and for a partial payment on a hurricane resistant home.
• The LHA awarded a vendor a contract for modifications of units for handicap accessibility but could not provide documentation that the project was advertised, allowing full and open competition for the job. The LHA also approved a change order to the contract for hurricane repairs to the buildings, which was not within the scope of the original contract.
• In a test of three contracts covered under the Davis-Beacon Act (a federal law requiring that prevailing wages be paid on public works projects), work on two contracts was started before the contract date and the bid date.
• Still paying large late fees for utility bills.
• Failed to pay its portion of retirement benefits for employees in either 2007 or 2008 and had to set up a separate account in 2009 to make the contribution.
|Beautiful single-family homes belie a host of problems auditors found with
how the LHA manages St. Antoine Gardens.
The same independent auditing firm, Monroe-based Allen, Green & Williamson, conducted both audits. Ironically, it was Guillory’s desire to hire a new auditor that raised the suspicion of then-LHA Board Chairman Buddy Webb, who immediately asked to see the audit and was taken aback by the findings on the disaster assistance program and the fact that a number of the 2008 problems were not cleared up in 2009. Webb, who has expressed disappointment in Guillory’s leadership at the LHA, resigned from the agency two weeks ago, citing health reasons.
Guillory admits he may have spread himself too thin by accepting the director’s job at the Opelousas Housing Authority in 2005. On Monday, he disclosed that in 2009 he made $77,000 at that agency, which has a number of its own problems that were revealed in a recent audit, at the same time he was bringing in $150,300 from the LHA — where he gets another $26,000 in fringe benefits, including a $5,000 annual business allowance and $19,000 in medical insurance premiums.
Guillory says his focus has been on the LHA’s Home Ownership Program, including St. Antoine Gardens, which is about 3 years old, and the new Villa Gardens, a development of 43 single-family homes that just broke ground near Alice Boucher Elementary. Both developments were funded through the sale of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in the U.S. for affordable housing investments. The tax credits were created as an incentive for private investors to put money into the development of affordable housing.
In the summer of 2007 the housing authority moved 30 families into two, three, and four-bedroom homes that include washers, dryers, and dishwashers near the corner of North St. Antoine Street and W. Gilman Road. Residents at St. Antoine qualify to purchase their homes after renting them for a period of 15 years.
Even that project, however, is not going well for Guillory; he’s now dealing with issues at St. Antoine. “You always have problems [with construction projects],” Guillory says. “It’s not our fault the contractor came in and did a horrible job.” He says the housing authority paid to fix the problems, among which were roofing and other leaks, and would later seek reimbursement from the St. Antoine development (a practice the auditors frowned upon). “It’s isolated problems; most of the homes are in good shape.” The only problems with the development involve inferior construction and poor materials, according to Guillory, who says the authority is considering legal action against the Mississippi-based contractor.
Auditors at Little & Associates of Monroe, who studied St. Antoine Gardens’ balance sheets for 2008 and 2009, raised a number of issues about St. Antoine, questioning not only the LHA paying many of its expenses on a regular basis (they’re supposed to be paid by the management company), but also the conditions of the units and inspections that should be performed, as well as write-offs for a portion of the receivables on the housing authority’s books.
While Guillory’s lack of indignation, especially about the federal disaster housing program, is perplexing, LHA board member Donald Fuselier is not tempering his anger. “There are so many people serving on boards and community nonprofits for nothing,” Fuselier says (the LHA board members are not compensated). “There are so many people who work for organizations for free. Then you have the politicians, the fat cats, just taking from the community, using their positions to enrich themselves,” adds the former city prosecutor. Fuselier says he regularly gets calls from recent college grads who cannot find a job, and he fears scandals like this send a bad message about the value and rewards of hard work. “They call me all the time.
They just want to work, and they want to stay home, in Louisiana,” he says, noting any of those grads would have been eager to fill one of the jobs Williams holds. “How do you think they feel when they read this?”
Fuselier is confident what will emerge from the investigations will be a much better run organization that is clear about its mission. “We will clean it up,” he promises. “I can assure you of that, and I can assure you these things will not happen again. Right now it stinks. All I can do is apologize to the public. It happened under my watch, but we didn’t know about it till the audit came in.”
City-Parish President Joey Durel, who has no direct oversight of the LHA except that he appoints five of the board’s seven members, on Monday sent letters to three of his appointees, John Freeman, Joe Dennis and Leon Simmons (Webb already resigned), to let them know they will be replaced.
Durel, who is seeking a legal opinion on whether local government has any authority to help clean up the agency, says he’s decided to keep Fuselier on the board. Durel says he wants someone with institutional knowledge of how the agency is supposed to work to help sort out the mess. “He’s an attorney and a former prosecutor, and he understands these kinds of things. I think he has the training to handle this,” Durel says.
No one is speculating on whether Guillory will survive the scandal. “I’m going to withhold judgment,” Fuselier says. “I don’t want to Shirley Sherrod anybody, but [the auditors’] recommendation may be to terminate him.”
That would make for strange irony. In 1998 it was HUD that asked Guillory to come in to clean up the embattled agency. And by almost any measure, he did just that more than a decade ago.
What happened between then and now?
Only the investigators know. “The auditors are going through the agency with a fine tooth comb. Let them do their job; they know what to look for,” Fuselier says. “They do this every day.”
1. Contract: Chris Williams and Lafayette Housing Authority
(Checks are written to Williams’ nonprofit corporation, Lafayette Training and Career Development Center. On his invoices to the LHA, Williams lists LTCDC’s address as 715 NW Evangeline Thruway, which houses the Orida Edwards Law Firm. Edwards says Williams’ company leases about one-third of the building.)
Start Date: 11-30-2007
Compensation: $76,960 annually plus up to $600 monthly car allowance
Two years after the 2005 hurricanes, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over long-term rental assistance for tens of thousands of eligible displaced families from FEMA through the Disaster Housing Assistance Program. In an interagency agreement between HUD and FEMA, DHAP was to play a vital role in helping families rebuild their lives, get on a path to self-sufficiency and have the opportunity to return home. HUD has been using its national network of public housing agencies, like the Lafayette Housing Authority, to provide the assistance and case management services for these families. The program was extended to help families displaced by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. Per the contract with the LHA, case managers like Williams were supposed to help the families with rent subsidies, and security and utility deposits from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, unless authorized by the LHA (which did approve work outside of those hours). Case managers also were contracted to provide help with employment and access to other agencies that might help the families in the program. Before the program was abruptly terminated by the LHA board Friday, the DHAP’s five case managers and two support staff were serving 100 families.
2. Employment Contract: Chris Williams, Ph.D., and UL Lafayette
Start Date: 8-20-2008
Compensation: $41,000 annually
(additional $2,000 each spring and fall semester for teaching night class)
Williams’ hours at the university are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a lunch hour, and until 12:30 p.m. Friday. Williams, who has degree in economics from UL Lafayette, a master’s degree in political science from Southern University and earned a doctorate from Union Institute and University, through correspondence courses, is employed as a full-time counselor in the Special Services Department. He splits his time between the Talent Search and Upward Bound programs. He works with high school students and staff to encourage these students to pursue a rigorous curriculum in preparation for college. Williams was originally hired by former UL President Ray Authement as a full-time instructor in the political science department.
3. Contract: Lafayette Training and Career Development Center and SMILE (St. Martin, Iberia, Lafayette Community Action Agency)
Start Date: 12-29-2009
Compensation: $65,000 (funded via the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act)
Williams’ company, LTCDC, was contracted by SMILE to provide job readiness/life skills services for 120 participants in Iberia Parish, including recruitment, instruction, job identification and job retention monitoring for 90 days; financial awareness instruction, including checking and savings accounts, budgeting, credit cards and loans, insurance, financial planning and investing; career preparation instruction, including writing a résumé, and job search and interviewing strategies. LTCDC must also provide communitywide workshops on money management, life skills and literacy in both Iberia Parish and St. Martin Parish, where it serves another 100 clients. Williams’ company gets $55,000 for Iberia Parish and $10,000 for St. Martin Parish, all of which are stimulus dollars.)
The Louisiana Secretary of State lists Chris Williams as the registered agent and president of Lafayette Training and Career Development Inc. Williams’ statement of financial position for fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2009, shows $172,178 in grants, with $175,000 in expenses, including facilities and equipment costs, management and general expenses and $167,300 in program expenses.
Phone calls to Williams at UL and on a cell phone were not returned.