Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

Rep. Rickey Hardy should be applauded for helping blow the lid on the LHA.

Our ongoing coverage, including in today’s issue, of the mess at the Lafayette Housing Authority — the lack of oversight, the evidently egregious abuse of federal funding — has generated more traffic in the comment section of our website, almost all of it righteous indignation, than any story we’ve produced since I began working here a year and a half ago. It’s a story that will evolve in the coming weeks as accountability gets its proper traction, and as Leslie Turk continues to squeeze this over-ripened fruit. And it’s a story that should tickle our collective outrage bone.

This is really two stories joined at the hip: One is about a federally funded agency with a noble mission — helping poor families secure safe, affordable, long-term housing — that appears to have been run like one of those book clubs where they drink wine; the other is about a now-former contract case manager for that agency, Chris Williams, who either doesn’t sleep or couldn’t possibly have fulfilled the terms of his contract, and who might just end up in a federal courtroom before this is said and done. Sources close to the investigation say the FBI is now questioning witnesses for a possible case.

Williams has dodged our calls, offering only a wan promise to KJCB to address the allegations at a later date.

What has been astonishing to me are the comments — a disturbing but persistent minority — that dwell on Rep. Rickey Hardy’s role in uncovering the subterfuge.

Yes, Hardy and Williams were political competitors for the House seat now occupied by Hardy. But to suggest this is grandstanding on Hardy’s part seems a bit of a stretch, though I’ll admit when he pulled a Rev. Jesse Jackson on KATC and said, “Chris Williams got paid and the community got played,” I had to take a seat and rest my feet.

Hardy in his role as legislator has helped secure funding for the LHA, some of which underwrote the construction of new units on Patterson Street in his district. In fact, the majority of people served by the housing authority live in Hardy’s district. They are his constituents.

As we learned in Turk’s reporting, the compensation for contract workers such as Williams increased dramatically in less than two years, from $11 an hour to $37, but never fell as the program was winding down. And we continue to get tips from sources, some of whom are clients living in LHA housing, that at least some of the units were thrown together like a stack of Jingo blocks.
Isn’t exposing mismanagement and corruption, especially if it helps clean up the culture in the LHA — this process, hopefully, began when the legislative auditor, Housing and Urban Development officials and the FBI began investigating the agency — doing something for your district?

This is improving the lives of constituents that goes beyond bringing a new drugstore to a corner.

The LHA debacle is far from over, and the more we learn the more outrage it generates. As an example of what appears to be at least lax management and at worst fraud, it is a prime example why so many of us are mistrustful of federal entitlement programs.
But blaming Rep. Hardy for doing the right thing is wrong. Despite some pollution in his locution, he made a contribution to the solution.

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