[UPDATE: Mayor-President Joel Robideaux responded to Councilman Castille’s request for a probe, saying his “Legal Department” has looked into this matter and “supports the conclusion that there has been full compliance with all rules and laws related to this transaction.” He does not, however, say whose “conclusion” they went into the inquiry to support, nor does he say who, specifically, in the legal department purportedly investigated whether the loan was proper and free of conflict of interest. Castille maintains that an “outside, non-biased” investigation is warranted, KATC reports.]
Acting on conflict-of-interest and influence peddling questions first raised by The Acadiana Advocate, Councilman Jay Castille called on the mayor-president to investigate a suspect loan to one of his assistants.
The Advocate reported Saturday that Marcus Bruno, the mayor’s assistant for governmental affairs, received a $35,000 federally funded loan from the nonprofit Lafayette Neighborhoods Economic Development Corp. for his business, LA Consultants, in late 2016. Bruno then helped the organization secure additional federal funding from the city, and while he was working to win support for those dollars from the administration and council, Bruno was consulting on rewrites to LNEDC’s bylaws and making recommendations about who should serve on its board of directors, the paper reported.
Calling the story “misleading,” Mayor Joel Robideaux immediately jumped to Bruno’s defense. “To suggest that this is anything other than a properly issued loan is a serious distortion of the facts,” he wrote in a statement issued Sunday afternoon.
In a Friday afternoon press release, Castille said Lafayette Parish taxpayers “deserve a full vetting of the circumstances surrounding an appointee of the mayor-president receiving a loan from a non-profit over which the mayor-president has oversight.”
The Advocate could find no evidence that a single step was taken to remedy any conflict-of-interest questions related to the loan and Bruno’s close relationship with LNEDC.
“While media reports have indicated a potential conflict of interest, it is not entirely clear what procedures are in place, if any, to guard against this and other potential conflicts of interest,” Castille said.
“As elected officials we have a duty to uphold the trust the public places in us. I don’t know whether or not anything improper took place. There are too many unanswered questions at this point to know that — which isn’t fair to either the taxpayers or the employee in question,” Castille added. “Therefore, I think it is necessary for Mayor-President Robideaux to open a public, thorough, and fair investigation into this matter so that the public will get the clarity they deserve.”
Phil Lank, who served as Lafayette’s first Community Development director and helped create LNEDC, weighed in on the matter Thursday, telling The Current the loan was inappropriate and should be investigated fully. “It’s really incumbent on the administration to go to LNEDC and say, ‘Give us this information on this loan.’ In fact, I would want to look at every other loan that they’ve been making in the last couple of years just to make sure they haven’t done this again with somebody else,” Lank said.
Several council members contacted for that story, including Castille, appeared to agree with Lank.