Rather than respond to pointed questions about embattled drainage projects, Mayor-President Josh Guillory is asking both councils to hire a “qualified, independent party” to provide answers.
On the heels of legal setbacks and work stoppages on three major projects — and facing potentially more legal action — City Council members pressed the administration to answer for what could be costly missteps. In a letter delivered to the chairs of both councils last week, Guillory instead suggests deferring the inquiry to an auditor.
For nearly two years, the councils have signed off on the administration’s drainage projects, failing to scrutinize how the money was being spent, how contracts were awarded and whether the $110 million plan would prevent any homes or businesses from flooding.
But skepticism has stirred on the City Council recently, as council members Nanette Cook and Glenn Lazard have sought to press accountability in light of the legal setbacks.
On June 7, following The Current’s reporting that LCG may have overpaid for property and broken public bid law, and amid two major legal setbacks on land grabs that could potentially cost local government millions, Cook, the City Council chairwoman, submitted some 30 questions and requests for documents and records about the drainage projects completed, underway or planned. Most of the questions home in on Rigid Constructors, the Lafayette-based contractor awarded the lion’s share of LCG’s drainage work. She asked the administration for answers by June 21. The administration has yet to respond.
Instead, in a June 24 letter addressed to Cook and Parish Council Chairman AB Rubin, Guillory suggests the councils hire Lafayette-based accounting firm Kolder, Slaven & Co., the councils’ existing auditing firm, to conduct an independent audit. Guillory calls the proposal “the best solution to answering these questions to remove any and all doubt of the legitimacy of the final responses.”
Leaving the prospect of an inquiry up to both councils would also buy Guillory a set of more sympathetic ears. While the City Council has scrapped with the administration in the past, notably going toe-to-toe over the council’s right to an independent legal counsel, Parish Council members have generally been more aligned with the administration.
On drainage particularly, the Parish Council has found little reason to slow down spending. Millions more for the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control Project, which includes the $60 million Homewood project halted by court order, are on the table at the July 5 council meeting.
Included on that agenda is appropriating $22 million in state cash for the project, despite its court-mandated stoppage. LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle said the funds could be used for the Coulee Ile Des Cannes portion of the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project, which was budgeted at $11 million and received a $12.8 million allocation last month.
The City Council, too, has approved spending, even as council members belatedly raised concern about the administration’s approach and transparency. City Council members OK’d ordinances empowering the administration to seize property, despite court rulings that LCG had used that power unlawfully on two projects: a detention pond on Lake Farm Road near Costco and the massive Homewood Regional Detention project north of Milton.
LCG has begun rolling out videos defending its drainage strategy. Guillory is usually recorded on location at one of LCG’s projects, explaining what they are and reiterating his central claim: LCG is following a plan, which itself is guided by science. The court in the Homewood case found otherwise, ruling that LCG had cherry-picked evidence to justify a project that would net the contractors supporting it millions.
While deferring to an independent auditor would appear to clear the air of politics, the administration has already cast the City Council’s inquiry as a political exercise.
When Cook supplied the questions to the administration at the early June council meeting, Guillory had stepped out. In his place, CAO Cydra Wingerter chastised Cook and later stormed out of the meeting.
“While the interrogation appears to be political in nature, the implied allegations may have needlessly planted a sense of distrust with our constituents that warrant an adequate response,” Guillory writes in the letter.
Cook declined to comment for this story.
The M-P describes Cook’s questions as both financial and legal and says the City and Parish councils are impacted. He asks for a special joint meeting on July 5 to introduce a budget amendment to hire the auditor. Such an engagement would need a majority vote of both councils.
Including the Parish Council means putting the question of an inquiry before a group that has broadly supported Guillory’s fast-paced strategy.
“I think it’s really impressive, and it’s something that [we] as a parish can really be proud of,” Parish Councilman Josh Carlson said in May after receiving an update on the projects from LCG’s Public Works Department.
The update was prompted by questions from City Council members, after two district judges found LCG lacked a plan sufficient to justify seizing private property for drainage projects. LCG now claims it has a plan in place, despite requesting funds to develop a “comprehensive stormwater management plan.” Before the City Council next week is a $500,000 budget item for that plan.
Parish Council Chairman AB Rubin could not be reached for comment. Contacted by text, Carlson says he hasn’t seen Cook’s questions, given that they were posed at a City Council meeting.
“I would like [to] consider the questions and then decide if the CPA firm is the best to answer those questions,” Carlson says.
Guillory claims addressing the questions would take too much time for LCG employees, who are in the midst of preparing the executive budget. He notes that the local firm has been contacted and has agreed to prepare a set of agreed upon procedures for the audit.
Auditor Burton Kolder tells The Current Guillory’s letter speaks for itself. “The councils have to bless this,” he says.