Former LHA board members’ appeals on Tuesday agenda
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.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.