Letter to the Editor: former LHA board member responds to Williams settlement

by Leslie Turk

I can no longer remain quiet in light of this decision by the LHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay out public funds on a frivolous lawsuit.

Although The IND reported the disturbing decision April 11, my blood pressure shot up again on May 27 when The Advocate also noted that the Lafayette Housing Authority had settled the lawsuit filed by one of its former contract workers, Chris Williams, for $30,000.

As a former commissioner of the LHA, I can no longer remain quiet in light of this decision by the LHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay out public funds on a frivolous lawsuit.

In 2010, while a commissioner, I received the audit for the prior year 2009. The fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2009, and I had been asking for the audit. I was told it was delayed because of the CPA firm conducting the audit. I started asking in February, and it was not until I called the CPA to find out that the audit had been done and was sent to me at the LHA address two months prior.

When I reviewed the audit it became quite apparent that then-Executive Director Walter Guillory had hired many of his friends to be case workers for federal programs aimed at helping find housing for victims of hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Rita. It also became very apparent that the employees did not have proper documentation of time sheets or any way of justifying their salaries. In particular was Chris Williams who was being paid hourly for a 40-hour work week. In addition to that, he was a full-time employee at UL and had a contract with SMILE for consulting work. His salary was initially about $9 per hour but had jumped to $37 per hour. One thing to realize is that only he had access to the files and information for the Disaster Housing Assistance Program. From my understanding due to the confidentiality of the information, only he had the access code.

I reviewed the DHAP case worker contracts, which were drawn up by Jonathan Carmouche, then Walter Guillory's assistant director. They were very poorly written, and our board attorney had no knowledge of these contracts.

I contacted the Louisiana legislative auditors and they audited LHA and found the same mismanagement on the DHAP, as well as on other projects at housing.

Months later HUD takes over the LHA and cancels all DHAP contracts. I was led to believe that they were going to require all the DHAP employees to provide them with proper work records. That did not happen. To add insult, they paid two of the DHAP workers for the remaining part of their contract.

I am sure Chris Williams saw this as an opportunity to put his claim in to reap even more money.

Only one problem: He did not have a contract. He said he had a verbal contract with Jonathan who had no authority to grant one. Walter Guillory signed a statement that Jonathan was not authorized and could not grant a contract with anyone. So I say to myself Chris Williams has no case.

But Chris did not stop there; he continued to file lawsuits against the LHA for money he did not earn. I felt he should have paid all the money that he had no records for.

So Lafayette housing gets legal counsel and fights Chris Williams' claim to the verbal contract. I was assured by Justin Ormsby, HUD's regional director, that there was absolutely no way they were going to settle with Chris Williams. My understanding is that they spent over $50,000 in legal fees for this frivolous claim and then caved into Chris Williams, giving him $30,000.00 to settle.

I called Justin Ormsby about the settlement and he gave me this analogy. He told me he was in business for himself and bought a piece of equipment that did not work properly. The manufacturer did not want to give him his money back so he sued. After spending a lot of money he gave up and cut his losses. I told him his story had no bearing on this because he did not lose any of his money.
He lost mine - and yours.

I am disgusted with the Lafayette Housing Authority and I agree with City-Parish President Joey Durel that we should never appoint a board until we have some oversight. Our government is broken, and I hope we have not reached the point of no return.

Buddy Webb is the former chairman of board of commissioners for the Lafayette Housing Authority.