State District Judge Ed Rubin Friday reinstated dismissed Lafayette Housing Authority board commissioners Joe Dennis, John Freeman and Leon Simmons. While City-Parish President Joey Durel had the authority to remove the board members in light of the troublesome 2009 audit, Rubin found, his decision to retain senior commissioner Donald Fuselier constitutes an arbitrary and capricious action.
Seven board members were serving as commissioners during the period covered by the audit; board chairman Buddy Webb resigned after the audit became public for health reasons, and Durel dismissed five members (two did not appeal). He retained Fuselier, saying his background as an attorney and former city prosecutor would be valuable to the board.
Dennis, Freeman and Simmons filed suit after the City-Parish Council upheld the dismissals in a 6-2 vote.
Durel named board replacements on Oct. 7, in the midst of the legal battle, but in court Monday, through Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger, agreed not to swear them in until Rubin had a chance to review the case.
“The evidence presented illustrates that some of the members who were removed began serving on the board in January of 2009 and therefore cannot be presumed to be at fault for the inadequacies of the 2008 audit,” Rubin wrote, noting that Fuselier was also on the board during the time of the previous year’s audit — which also pointed out numerous problems with how the LHA conducts its business.
Rubin also states that it was Fuselier who "proposed" that LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory receive a $55,000 increase in his pay last year, an amount Rubin says Durel views as “pretty excessive.” Fuselier in the past said that he went along with the raise because Guillory was being recruited for a national housing authority position; he did not, however, say that he made the initial recommendation. The raise increased Guillory's base pay to $186,000, with a $5,000 a year business allowance and other benefits.
The Independent Weekly has confirmed, from records at the LHA, that the board went into executive session on Dec. 3, 2009. After that session, when the special meeting of the board of commissioners was called back to order, Fuselier motioned that the board increase the salary, and Freeman seconded the motion.
Guillory’s new contract was signed that day by Joe Dennis, who was acting as chairman while Webb was out of town. It also appears that Fuselier signed as one of two witnesses. For reasons that remain unclear, the contract was backdated to be effective on Nov. 16, 2009.
Only 15 months earlier, on Aug. 7 of 2008, Guillory's contract was renewed for $131,000; that was supposed to be for five years.
It remains unclear, however, who initially proposed that Guillory receive the exorbitant raise.
The Independent Weekly will continue to follow the impact of Rubin’s decision.