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Robideaux brings sensitive LUS review into public arena

The gist: Challenged by the council to be more transparent, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux delivered to the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority potentially damaging comments gathered by the administration during its investigation of payments by LUS to LUS Fiber.

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Get caught up, quickly. LUS and LUS Fiber have been under fire for a pair of potential violations of a state law that prohibits government dollars from propping up the municipal telecom. The most recent of the two, $8 million paid over eight years for a power outage monitoring system, was self-reported by Robideaux in July. In a press release distributed Oct. 11, Robideaux announced he was removing LUS and Fiber’s interim directors, claiming the swap was made to “facilitate an internal review on behalf of the Public Service Commission,” and connected the review to the power outage monitoring payments. The PSC denies any involvement and has distanced itself from Robideaux’s attempts to link his efforts to its limited oversight. Robideaux named his chief administrative officer, Lowell Duhon, to oversee LUS, and Kayla Miles Brooks, Fiber’s business administrator, as LUS Fiber’s interim director, replacing Jeff Stewart and Teles Fremin, respectively. LUS’s consulting engineer has deemed Duhon and Brooks unqualified for the posts.

Once closely held and secretive, the review was center stage at a special joint meeting of the council and the LPUA. Lafayette Public Utilities Authority Chairman Bruce Conque requested the meeting after a pointedly challenging email to Robideaux from Councilman Jay Castille, a frequent critic. “I think everyone agrees that if there was a violation of the law, that would be a very serious allegation,” Castille wrote the mayor on Nov. 13. “I think all anyone wants is a ‘comprehensive, complete and honest analysis.’ But the way you have handled this entire matter makes many doubt your sincerity.”

Castille, who declined to comment for this story, had also called the mayor to task for being untruthful about the Public Service Commission’s role in the ongoing review; Robideaux has said, and repeated Tuesday, that Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene asked for a wider inquiry of the relationships between LUS, LCG and Fiber. Greene’s office denies it played any role. The Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, a subcommittee of the council, regulates LUS, and the PSC has limited oversight over LUS and Fiber, ensuring they comply with provisions of the Local Government Fair Competition Act. 

Robideaux’s presentation came on the heels of a press conference called abruptly last week by former LUS/LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval, in which Huval defended the power outage monitoring system’s pricing and usefulness.

In his remarks, Robideaux responded to criticism with what may be the most damaging information to date. He released emails and anonymous comments gathered in interviews recorded under attorney-client privilege during the investigation into the power outage payments to LUS Fiber. The complete context of the comments isn’t clear, and Robideaux seemed to attempt to attribute the statements to eight people interviewed, including LUS’s and Fiber’s former interim directors, an LCG accountant, an auditor and two attorneys who work on LUS matters. (You can view his full presentation and comments here.)

“In my opinion, I’ve always thought it was kind of a stretch … as someone who works in the industry, that’s why we are eliminating it, to be honest with you,” said one interviewee. And another: “We need to let it fall off the books because we’re not seeing the justification.”

Former LUS and LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval defended the decision to implement POMS and the benefits of the system at a press conference last week. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Huval continues to stand by the POMS decision. “Last week, I explained how we incorporated the beneficial use of technology on the LUS system that resulted in significantly reduced electric outage durations, while still maintaining the lowest rates in the state,” Huval wrote in response to a request for comment. “During the implementation of such technological upgrades, I did not receive any indication by LUS staff or consultants that any of these initiatives were not cost effective. LUS customers are receiving the best service ever because of initiatives such as these.” (View Huval’s presentation here.)

Why this matters: Robideaux presented what may be the most compelling evidence to date that some LUS insiders suspected the power outage monitoring payments were a way to prop the fiber division up at a time it desperately needed cash flow. Should a new PSC audit determine the service was mispriced or unnecessary, the money may have to be paid back to LUS with interest, delivering a financial blow that could jeopardize the future of LUS Fiber. Robideaux is expected to give the LPUA an update by mid-December and complete the review by the end of the year. 

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LUS becomes political football in waning days of M-P race

The gist: Long considered the goose that laid the golden egg, Lafayette Utilities System, along with its sister entity, LUS Fiber, is now mired in political controversy heading into Saturday’s mayoral runoff between Carlee Alm-LaBar and Josh Guillory. Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has floated accusations of unlawful transactions between the systems, initiated leadership changes and launched an internal investigation, all of which have drawn suspicions of political motives. 

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Councilman proposes temporary parishwide sales tax for drainage

The gist: Spurred by a spike in flooded homes in his district, Councilman Pat Lewis has moved to put a quarter cent sales tax, assessed parishwide, before voters this fall. Public notice of the new tax will be offered at Tuesday’s City-Parish Council meeting. The council would vote in July on calling a fall election.  

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The sales tax would generate roughly $13 million annually. Lewis tells me he’d like to pursue a federal match to increase the buying power of the funds. Dollars generated from the tax would accelerate the current deferred maintenance program initiated by the Robideaux administration, he says, and go to new projects not included on that list. The tax would sunset after five years.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Lewis says. “In the last flood there’s areas that never flooded before in 30 or 40 years.” Lewis represents Downtown and a large chunk of the northern limits of the city and the parish, portions of which saw increased flood activity in this month’s squall, the third 100-year rain event in the last three years.

Drainage currently receives $10 million each year after a 2017 rededication of the combined public health and mosquito control property tax shifted $2.5 million in new money over to an existing millage. That proposition, a brainchild of Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, also produced a one-time $9 million transfer to kick-start the first 27 of 77 deferred maintenance projects.

Another one-time transfer of $8 million, out of the parish library system’s fund balance, is before voters this fall. There is roughly $32 million in projects on the maintenance program’s full work list of projects. LCG’s public works department has estimated an overhaul of the parishwide stormwater management system could cost between $500 million and $875 million.  

At least one council member won’t support the sales tax, saying it’s not a long-term solution to an ongoing problem. Councilman Jay Castille says the parish’s massive drainage issues would be best addressed through a millage. “The millage we have in place needs to be increased,” Castille maintains. “In five years when you’re out of money, what do you do, ask voters for another tax?”

What to watch for: Whether a recently tax-averse electorate will pay more for better drainage. Lewis’ proposition faces an uphill battle given the political climate around government spending. Many voters and candidates advocate that enough drainage funding can be obtained by shifting money out of services like the public library system. Others believe only more revenue can accomplish a comprehensive fix. How to pay for better drainage, coming hot on the heels of another big rain this year, will figure prominently in parish elections across the board.  

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Internal LCG review finds Bruno loan deficient, unusual and likely in default

The Community Development Department’s monitoring review of the 2016 loan to Robideaux aide Marcus Bruno found it in likely default for lack of compliance with federal requirements and recommends the nonprofit board that awarded it either modify the loan agreement, call in the loan or pursue legal action.

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Answers on Bruno loan will be slow coming

The gist: The City-Parish Council unanimously supported a resolution Tuesday by councilmen Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux asking that the body be kept abreast of federal and state investigations into a suspect 2016 loan to one of the Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s assistants. But it’s unlikely the council will be hearing anything any time soon.

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Council split may be thrown out for re-vote, flaring political tension


The gist: Only months to go before elections to seat new city and parish councils, and last fall’s vote to create the separate bodies may be thrown out. City and parish voting maps do not match underlying legal descriptions, an error of hasty work, which gives potential cause to invalidate the result.

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Robideaux’s shifting Bruno loan story: a quick overview 


The gist: Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has proven evasive in his evolving attempts to defend a suspect loan received by one of the his top aides. The Acadiana Advocate kicked over a hornet’s nest with a story that raises questions of conflict-of-interest and influence-peddling.

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LCG balances the budget and avoids cuts with plan to sell Buchanan garage to private interests

The council and administration patched an unexpected hole in the current budget with a windfall of sales tax collections and a new solution to the the Buchanan garage problem: sell it to private interests.

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