Daniel Stanford, the Lafayette Housing Authority’s attorney, says he was notified by LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory that the Disaster Housing Assistance Program case managers fired in August say they were improperly discharged, in that they were not given the 30 days’ written notice required by their contracts. They contend they are owed for 30 days of work — which would amount to $5,920 plus $600 in car allowance for each of them.
But there’s a glitch.
After repeated public records request for the DHAP case managers’ current contracts in the wake of their firings, The Independent Weekly received this statement from LHA Deputy Director Jonathan Carmouche Aug. 27: “Because of the continual extensions of the DHAP-Ike/Gustave [sic] program and the recurrent needs of the families, time did not permit to update the contracts with each extension.” The contracts, it turns out, all expired earlier this year without having been renewed.
“The one who is really pushing the issue is Porsha Evans,” Stanford says, though it’s his understanding the other four case managers also want to be reimbursed. The case managers were fired by the LHA board in a special meeting Aug. 13. Their terminations came on the heels of a critical independent audit of the LHA, which pointed out several problems with how the housing authority was administering and managing the Department of Housing and Urban Development/FEMA housing program, which was designed to help families displaced by hurricanes. At the time, Guillory told the board HUD officials had pored over the program for three days and were unhappy with “the files, the record-keeping. The conclusion is we were not satisfied with that, as far as the record-keeping of the program.”
But The Independent Weekly's review of the program, along what the auditors found, revealed much more than just sloppy record-keeping. Over the past 2.5 years, the DHAP case managers’ pay increased from about $11 an hour to $37; each was paid for 40 hours of work and got a $600 monthly car allowance without turning in time sheets or any other records noting the work the were doing. What’s more, some had additional jobs in the community. In the case of former Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, he had at least one other full-time job at UL Lafayette and even billed the program while he was teaching a class at the university. Others working the DHAP were Charlie Esie, Linda Jefferson and Myra Parker.
The auditors also noted that Carmouche, who was in charge of the DHAP, was himself getting a piece of the DHAP action, inspecting homes in the program “on Saturdays” for $75 a pop. Carmouche, who earns $85,000 a year, got an extra $20,000 from the LHA for inspecting homes in 2009 and had already been paid $11,300 when he stopped conducting inspections this year after the audit.
The auditors further noted that rent reasonableness documentation in the case managers' files, if it was in the file, appeared to be fabricated and that some of files themselves had zero supporting documents. That audit prompted a visit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and led to a federal investigation of the LHA, which is ongoing; HUD officials are now working alongside LHA management to address the problems.
At the time the case managers were fired, Guillory explained that the residents on the program would continue to be serviced by the LHA’s existing staff. The program, which had an annual budget of $1.8 million, was slated to expire Oct. 31 but has once again been extended.
Evans, who confirms she has written to the housing authority seeking 30 days of pay, says while the contracts themselves were not renewed, she is confident that HUD’s earlier extension of the program while they were still working as case managers was also an extension of her contract. Evans, who maintains she worked tirelessly for her clients, says she has consulted with an attorney and plans to pursue legal action if necessary. She declined to name her attorney.
“We were sent amendments to the contract,” says Evans, whose real name is Beatrice Wilson. “The amendments came, actually, from HUD.”
That’s not the way Stanford sees it.
The most recent contract for Evans (though each differs slightly) had an effective date of Aug. 1, 2009, through March 31, 2010, the attorney explains. The contract’s “duration” clause stated that the contract would be effective through March 31 of this year “or the date of the termination of the DHAP funding if earlier.” That contract could have been renewed 45 days prior to March 31, approximately Feb. 15, with the consent of both parties.
“That did not happen,” Stanford says.
The “termination” clause states that the LHA shall provide the DHAP worker with written notice of termination 30 days prior to the effective date and shall specify “the nature, extent, and effective date of termination.” Because the contract was not current, the clause does not apply, according to Stanford. He says after March 31 the DHAP workers were operating as independent contractors without a contract and subject to termination at any time, with or without cause.
On Oct. 15 Stanford notified the LHA staff in writing that only the LHA board can take up the matter (three of whose members, ironically, have filed legal action to get their posts back; they were dismissed by City-Parish President Joey Durel a few days after they fired the DHAP workers). However, the board itself appears to have little power to make a decision on whether the case managers are owed any money, as HUD this week made it crystal clear the board cannot approve a single penny of expenditures without its authorization.