They’ll have to sit through a joint Lafayette City-Parish Council/Lafayette Public Utilities Authority meeting and a special Lafayette Public Power Authority meeting before their appeals are heard, but three dismissed Lafayette Housing Authority board members will have their say tonight in a special meeting of the council.
Removed in mid-August by City-Parish President Joey Durel amid a scathing review of the LHA’s operations and management by an independent auditor, Joe Dennis, John Freeman Jr. and Leon Simmons contend they were unfairly dismissed. In part, they contend the decision to remove them was made before they were able to fully review the audit. The audit was submitted to the LHA with a June 30 cover letter addressing the board of commissioners and was sent to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor on July 14, but board members say they were not shown the report; its findings came to light only after then-board Chairman Buddy Webb called the Monroe-based auditor Aug. 5 for a copy of it. Webb's inquiry was prompted by LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory's effort to call a board meeting to hire a new auditing firm.
The audit of LHA’s 2009 operations, however, pointed out a number of problems also cited in the 2008 independent audit, issues that the LHA failed to address — and further evidence board members had been asleep at the wheel for some time. On Aug. 13, the board called a special meeting to terminate five Disaster Housing Assistance Program case managers, one of whom was former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, after the audit found numerous discrepancies in how the case managers were compensated (each was paid $37 an hour for 40 hours of work per week, despite that some held other jobs). In that meeting, attended by this reporter, not a single board member expressed outrage at the findings contained in the report (board member Donald Fuselier was out of town on business and did not attend), vowing only to put new policies in place to avoid these problems in the future.
Durel, who is authorized to appoint five LHA board members, also later dismissed board members Gertrude Batiste and Gregory Day, after he got the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Officials in the cities of Broussard and Abbeville, whose Section 8 programs are under the umbrella of the LHA, had appointed Batiste and Day, respectively. Durel says HUD made it clear to him that the red flags raised by the independent auditor about how the LHA was being run were justification for dismissing the board and replacing it with new members.
Durel plans to keep only one board member, Fuselier, a former city prosecutor, and was in the process of naming a new board before the appeals were filed with the city-parish council. Webb resigned from the board after the 2009 audit was released, citing both disappointment with Guillory's stewardship of the agency and health problems.
Both HUD and the legislative auditor have been reviewing the LHA’s operations for more than a month; the FBI and state inspector general are conducting investigations as well. Read more on the LHA’s problems here