One of the most frustrating things in writing about this administration is obvious wrongdoing is reported and nothing is done.
In Bobby Jindal we have a governor who is constantly bitching about Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular while turning a blind eye to corruption, profiteering and ethical violations within his own administration.
You would think that the man who, upon taking office in 2008, said, “We have zero tolerance for corruption” would make at least a token effort to keep his house in order.
Instead, he gutted the enforcement authority of the State Ethics Board, ran off members of the board, and commenced to allow his political pals to run unchecked.
The sordid episode of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and the manner in which he was allowed to increase his state pension by nearly 70 percent is just the latest in a sorry laundry list of loose enforcement of ethics rules in this administration.
We have already written about some of these:
- Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones simultaneously serves as executive director of Teach for America (TFA), which in turn, has been issued contracts worth more than $3 million with the Department of Education (DOE) since she became a member of BESE in 2012. BESE is the governing board for DOE and as such, must approve all contracts with the department.
- The resignation of the vice chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics only weeks after the Tribune, a newspaper serving the African-American community of New Orleans published a story in its May/June 2013 issue headlined “Kira, Kira on the Wall” which explained Schneider’s own conflict of interests in ruling on an Aug. 21, 2012, conflict of interest decision about Orange Jones.
- BESE President Chas Roemer consistently votes on issues concerning charter schools even though his sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools which much apply to BESE for approval of charters and other matters concerning charter schools, including funding.
And while we have not written about it, BESE member Walter Lee of Mansfield, who recent retired as Superintendent of DeSoto Parish Schools, is currently under investigation for allegations that he billed both the school board and BESE for travel expenses to and from BESE meetings in Baton Rouge and for lodging while in Baton Rouge.
Now, thanks to public records we belatedly obtained from the Division of Administration, we learn that another BESE member’s company has reaped more than $1.5 million from contract work his company performed on behalf of a dozen South Louisiana school boards and the Recovery School District in 2013 and 2014.
Hunt Guillot and Associates (HGA) of Ruston previously held two state contracts since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that together totaled more than $38 million. The latest, for $20 million, expired on June 30 but is expected to be renewed.
Jay Guillot, of the 5th BESE District, is an HGA partner.
The HGA contract is with the Louisiana Office of Community Development for “grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages incurred as a result of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and to a lesser extent, as a result of Hurricanes Gustav/Ike,” the contract details contained on the state’s LaTrac web page which lists active and expired state contracts and contractors.
Though the funds to pay HGA are federal funds allocated through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the company’s contract is with the state and the state cuts the checks to HGA from the state’s CDBG funds.
Much of HGA’s work involved other branches of parish governments but in our search of records we found no fewer than 138 billings to school boards and the RSD totaling $1.58 million since January 2013. Of that amount, 17 separate invoices totaling $488,000 (30.9 percent of the total billed) was for the RSD.
The Department of Education has responsibility for the oversight of RSD and cannot be considered separate entities for purposes of say, a lawsuit against the RSD. At the same time, BESE is the governing authority over DOE, thereby creating a straight line of authority between BESE and the RSD as well as the dozen school boards for whom HGA also performed work.
School boards for whom HGA performed services and the amounts billed from January of 2013 through May of 2014 are as follows:
- Plaquemines: 17 billings for $342,726;
- Cameron: 16 invoices, $227,126;
- St. Tammany: 16 invoices, $142,598;
- Orleans: 17 invoices, $116,507;
- Jefferson: 17 invoices, $97,598;
- Calcasieu: 16 invoices, $64,813;
- St. Charles: 14 invoices, $56,390;
- St. Bernard: 12 invoices, $29,539;
- Terrebonne: three invoices, $9,202;
- Lafourche: four invoices, $2,968;
- Washington: five invoices, $2,222;
- Lafayette: one invoice, $50.
Incredibly, with only a month left in its contract, HGA managed to allocate just enough work to almost exhaust the contract amounts for eight of the parish school boards and the RSD.
The last billing made available to us was for work done through May 25, 2014. Following are the total amounts billed through May 25 (with a month remaining on the contract) with the total allocated under HGA’s contract for the corresponding parish in parenthesis:
- RSD: $786,988 ($817,567);
- Orleans: $237,766 ($255,519);
- Jefferson: $205,748 ($205,750);
- Plaquemines: $831,968 ($826,970);
- St. Bernard: $195,996 ($196,877)
- St. Tammany: $377,372 ($382,863);
- St. Charles: $147,763 ($148,353;
- Calcasieu: $112,295 ($116,171);
- Cameron: $629,750 ($639,031).
Section 1113 of The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits public servants and their family members from entering into certain transaction. That section says:
- “No elected official or public employee or member of such public servant’s immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a controlling interest shall bid on or enter into any contract, subcontract, or other transaction that is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency.
That’s plain enough but for those wanting further clarification: “controlling interest means any ownership in any legal entity or beneficial interest in a trust, held by or on behalf of an individual or a member of his immediate family, either individually or collectively, which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”
We do not know for certain what Guillot’s percentage of ownership is but inasmuch as his name is listed as a partner on the company letterhead we would assume he would meet that criterion.
And while the HGA contract is not specifically with DOE or BESE, the $1.5 million in work done for the local school boards and the RSD seems at best to skirt the edge of a conflict of interests for Guillot.