Hours ahead of two crucial votes that would impact its bid, the newly formed utility company angling to run LUS withdrew its controversial proposal. In a letter addressed to the City-Parish Council, the LPUA and the mayor-president, NextGEN Utility Systems Managing Partner Jeff Baudier says the decision was made "in response" to the ongoing discussions of the company's proposal and the "importance" of the city's decision whether to accept it.
On Monday beginning at 4:30 p.m., the LPUA and council are set to take up a pair of resolutions related to privatizing LUS. One resolution before the LPUA — the council body that governs LUS — calls for an open bid, or request for proposal, process that would potentially attract competing offers from other companies that have expressed interest in acquiring or managing LUS since The Current broke the story about NextGEN's pursuit earlier this year. The other measure, which is up before the full council and authored by Councilman William Theriot, would formalize the council's opposition to any sale, lease or private management of LUS at this time.
"We admire the emotion and passion that residents and various stakeholders of these services have for LUS," Baudier writes in the letter.
Public opinion to the proposal has been largely negative since it was revealed in news reports that NextGEN, via representatives of parent firm Bernhard Capital Partners, had signed a letter of intent with Mayor-President Joel Robideaux in April of this year to explore a management agreement. Robideaux and Bernhard representatives have been in talks related to LUS since late 2016, signing a non-disclosure agreement in April 2017. LPUA and council members have long been upset that it was only through those news reports that they were made aware of the ongoing discussions and signing of an LOI.
NextGEN put forth its formal offer in October.
It's unclear if NextGEN's withdrawal means the company would not respond to an RFP, should the LPUA resolution calling for one succeed this afternoon or at some point in the future.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, the RFP resolution's sponsor, says the item will remain on the LPUA's agenda.
"The resolution was never about NextGEN or any particular entity," he says. Boudreaux characterizes it as a message to Robideaux, spelling out expectations of openness and transparency for any proposal that would ultimately end up in the "council's lap."
"I'm going forward with it with that in mind," Boudreaux says. "I think the mayor-president needs to hear that instruction."
Early indications are that the vote counts are stacked against NextGEN, with several council members stating publicly their desire to move on from the episode and set about recruiting a new LUS director to replace Terry Huval, who retired shortly after NextGEN's talks with Mayor-President Joel Robideaux broke in The Current.
Robideaux and NextGEN representatives could not be reached for comment.
Councilwoman Liz Hebert, who chairs the LPUA, says she will support Theriot's resolution over Boudreaux's.
Councilman Jay Castille, often a derisive critic of Theriot's, planned to vote for the conservative councilman's resolution as well, telling The Current last week that "it's probably going to snow" in Lafayette on Nov 5. But it won't be snowing this election eve, as Castille, who is battling a sinus infection, was unable to attend the meeting. — Additional reporting by Leslie Turk