The tape that would purportedly support City-Parish President Joey Durel’s position that three Lafayette Housing Authority board members violated the state’s open meetings law, which he cited in a Friday letter ousting them for the second time in three months, is blank.
In a Monday email to state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who had requested a copy of the tape to compare it with the written minutes (which were finally produced by the LHA last Thursday after more than a week of media requests and only after an LHA attorney intervened), LHA Human Resources Director Lydia Bergeron wrote: “Regrettably, the LHA is unable to honor your request for a copy of the tape recording of the Board of Commissioner’s meeting conducted October 26, 2010. I have been advised that the recorder malfunctioned or was not properly turned on. As such, the tape is blank. Be assured that steps will be taken to insure that this error does not again occur.”
On Friday, Durel dismissed LHA commissioners John Freeman, Joe Dennis and Leon Simmons, citing several violations of the state’s open meetings law after the three went into executive session in a special meeting Oct. 26. The meeting was held the day after LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory and his deputy, Jonathan Carmouche, resigned. Members of the media, including this newspaper, waited outside of the LHA’s Section 8 building on Kattie Drive for 30 minutes while the session took place, though Dennis has denied to Durel and The Daily Advertiser that the board went into executive session that day. After inviting the media back into the meeting, the board members informed those present that they only discussed giving Freeman authority to sign checks for the LHA. While they had intended to discuss Guillory and Carmouche’s employment, that was no longer necessary because they had resigned, the media were told.
The minutes of the meeting, prepared by LHA adminstrative assistant Danielle Carmouche, Jonathan Carmouche’s wife, reflect that an executive session did take place. But they contradict Durel’s contention that the session was not lawful. Durel claims the board did not openly vote to go into executive session, did not state the purpose for the executive session (what personnel matter it would take up) and failed to vote to go back into open session, all clear violations of state law. When City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger was unable to obtain the minutes of the meetings from the LHA, Durel used recordings from local media in determining that the executive session was illegal. Additionally, Durel noted in a Nov. 19 letter to the three board members that they failed to indicate on the agenda the precise purpose for the executive session and that a copy of the open meetings law is not posted at the offices of the LHA, as is required by law.
As first reported by The Independent Weekly Monday, Freeman says he is willing to step down from the board if his legal fees are paid by the LHA, and he noted in an email to Durel that Simmons would likely do the same. All three board members, removed by Durel in the wake of an audit that revealed financial mismanagement at the LHA, appealed their removal and were reinstated by District Judge Ed Rubin. Rubin called their removal arbitrary because another board member, Donald Fuselier, is being kept on the board by Durel.
Durel, who appointed one new member to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Buddy Webb, says he will wait to seat his other appointees until the time for an appeal, 10 days, lapses. He appointed a new board on Oct. 7 but has only sworn in CPA Shirley Vige who has 30 years of experience performing accounting, consulting and audit services for public housing authorities. At the time he made the new appointments, it was believed the board was comprised of seven members, but its bylaws clearly state that it only has five. No one has been able to determine why two more, one from Broussard and one from Abbeville, were added at a later date. Those two, also dismissed after the audit, did not appeal.
Neither Fuselier nor Vige, who had not yet been seated, attended the meeting in question.