[UPDATE, 5 p.m., Sept. 28: LHA attorney Daniel Stanford tells The Independent Weekly that after reading the court's order signed Friday, Sept. 24, he has informed the organization that the dismissed board members' status is unchanged; therefore, they cannot lawfully call a board meeting at the LHA's office. The order, a writ of mandamus addressed to the council and Durel, directs them to either meet the demands in the board members' petition or show cause as to why they should not on Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. The order was signed by District Judge Jules Edwards, whom Stanford says was the duty judge Friday. Stanford says the case is assigned to District Judge Ed Rubin.]
Joe Dennis, who served as board vice chairman of the Lafayette Housing Authority until he was dismissed by City-Parish President Joey Durel Aug. 16 in the wake of a critical audit of the LHA’s operations, has called a special meeting of the board.
Dennis, whose dismissal was upheld last week by the City-Parish Council in a 6-2 vote, says his attorney advised him that because he and former board members John Freeman and Leon Simmons filed suit last Friday to prevent Durel from naming a new board they are still board members. “Our attorney tells us that until this hearing we are still board members. We have a duty and a responsibility to continue our work,” Dennis says.
At the Thursday meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. at the LHA’s office at 115 Katie Drive, the board will “officially receive the audit” and an explanation of its findings from the Monroe-based CPA firm that conducted the audit, according to Dennis. “We never did have an audit meeting,” Dennis says. “Apparently other people knew about the audit before we did.” Although the audit has been available since about mid-July on the state legislative auditor’s website, Dennis says the report is supposed to be presented to the board so it can review and respond to the findings. “That’s not where we are supposed to get the audit from,” he says. “The only thing I know is that we as board members didn’t get it.”
CPA Tim Green of Allen, Green and Williamson confirms via email that his firm plans to attend the meeting. “We are scheduled to be at the meeting, and are aware of the precarious board member status.”
The biggest problem with the meeting may very well be its lack of a quorum, which would make it illegal. It needs four members for a quorum, and two other board members removed by Durel, Gertrude Batiste and Gregory Day, did not appeal. The only remaining member, Donald Fuselier, says he will only attend if the court determines the board members are still on the board (board Chairman Buddy Webb resigned for health reasons). Nothing even close to that has yet occurred, as a hearing on the suit is set for Nov. 8 in District Judge Ed Rubin’s court.
In the lawsuit, Dennis, Freeman and Simmons say they were improperly removed because Durel gave no reason for their dismissal. They are seeking to block his appointment of new members and are asking the court to grant them a new hearing before the council so that they can prevent evidence that they were unfairly dismissed.
The audit raised serious questions about how the LHA conducts its business and led to a federal investigation of its operations.