This afternoon Durel told The Independent Weekly that officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told him the red flags raised by the independent auditor about how the agency is run are enough justification for dismissing the board and replacing it with new members.
According to HUD, Durel exercised proper authority in previously dismissing board members Joe Dennis, John Freeman and Leon Simmons. He chose to keep only one of his appointments, Donald Fuselier. At that time Durel thought he had no authority over the remaining two members on the commission, who — so it seems — were appointed by officials in the city of Broussard and in Vermilion Parish, whose Section 8 programs are under the umbrella of the LHA. Durel now says HUD officials informed him that all LHA board members are indeed his appointees.
“It’s a strange relationship,” Durel says of Lafayette Consolidated Government’s role in the LHA. “Why do I appoint a board but have no oversight?” It’s a question he is still seeking a legal answer for.
“Part of the issue with the last board was lack of action,” Durel says, explaining that he was contacted by board members Fuselier and Buddy Webb as soon as they were made aware of the audit’s findings more than a month ago. The most glaring instance of potential fraud at the agency involved five case workers who were paid $37 an hour to oversee a disaster housing assistance program. Among the case managers were former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams and broadcaster Porsha Evans, whose real name is Beatrice Wilson; none of the case workers turned in time sheets, yet each was paid for 40 hours of work every week. Williams already has a full-time job at UL Lafayette. See last week's cover story, "Self-Serving," for more on the fiasco.
The city-parish president says the board should have taken immediate action to investigate the audit’s findings and fire the case managers instead of waiting until Aug. 13 to terminate them. Durel plans to keep Fuselier, a former city prosecutor, on the board. The authority’s chairman, Webb resigned his post in the wake of the controversy and has declined to serve on a newly constituted board.
By Friday Durel hopes to have firm commitments from four new board members; he is actively seeking candidates with backgrounds in accounting.
Durel is unsure how Batiste was able to serve on the board, as he has been advised that he could not appoint a member of the Lafayette City-Parish Council to serve as an LHA board member.
While he has no authority over personnel at the LHA, Durel says he will only appoint board members willing to take whatever action is necessary to clean up the agency so that it can resume its primary mission: helping the poor with access to affordable housing.
For reasons still unknown, somewhere along the way the LHA lost sight of that mission. Many of those answers now lay with HUD, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Inspector General and the FBI, all of whom sources close to the LHA say are now investigating.