HUD denies IND request for names of LHA applicants

by Leslie Turk

Even though the names have been released in the past, HUD now says privacy concerns outweigh public interest. Really?

Patricia Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been in control of the troubled Lafayette Housing Authority for the past six years via a process called receivership, on Thursday denied The Independent’s request for the names of the individuals who have applied for the top job at the LHA.

Katie Anderson
Photo by Wynce Nolley

Katie Anderson, who was hired in 2011 to the clean up the agency (her predecessor, Walter Guillory, was sentenced to 28 months in prison for bribery and bid-fixing), was unceremoniously dismissed when her contract expired May 31. HUD has refused to comment on why Anderson, who had been working on a year-to-year contract, was fired. She is widely respected among her peers throughout housing authorities across the state and recently won a prestigious award for her work. Anderson has since moved on to a job in Texas, but a source close to the situation tells The IND she did reapply for the local post.

On May 23, The IND submitted a public records request for the resumes and applications of everyone seeking the executive director's position, also asking for the job description and qualifications, advertisements for the job and a timeline and process for choosing the executive director. Even though the local housing agency is federally funded, housing agencies in Louisiana were created via state statute; in the past, the LHA has always responded to public records requests in a timely fashion, having released to local media all of the applicants back in 2011 when Anderson was hired.

Calling The IND’s inquiry a federal “Freedom of Information Act” request, Campbell declined to release the names of the applicants. “We are withholding copies of all resumes/applications under FOIA Exemption 6,” she writes. “Release of this information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The interest of the general public in reviewing these documents does not outweigh the individuals’ rights to privacy.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Knowing who will run the once-beleaguered agency — which by all accounts, including multiple clean audit reports, appeared to be getting back on track under Anderson’s leadership — is very much in the public interest. And citing a federal exclusion to a state public records request is at the very least puzzling.

An email to Campbell and Floyd Duran, who serves the dual role of LHA receiver and board chairman, questioning the decision to withhold the information was not immediately answered. The IND also emailed the LHA’s attorney, Brandon Decuir, for clarification on the denial.

The LHA has remained under HUD receivership all these years because former Mayor-President Joey Durel refused to name a new board.

But his successor, Joel Robideaux, did agree to name a board and bring the agency back under local control. Robideaux confirmed on May 20 (only after The IND submitted a public records request) who he was recommending to serve on the LHA's board of commissioners:

• Mark Becnel, Employee Management Solutions, owner
• Kim Boudreaux, Catholic Services of Acadiana, executive director
• Shelton Cobb, former member of the Lafayette Parish School Board
• Monica Gibbs, Department of Health and Hospitals/Office of Public Health, retired
• Polly Williams, Lafayette Parish School System, reading tutor

The new board, however, has had little to no involvement in the process of hiring a new executive director, according to a source close to the situation.

HUD's Campbell said her response that no timeline or process for choosing the executive director exists.

We will keep you posted.

Below are the qualifications for the job.

The Executive Director’s leadership abilities will include:
• Effective communication and interpersonal skills in dealing with residents, commissioners, community partners, elected officials, city, state, and federal partners;
• Ability to cultivate a positive work environment and inspire staff to the highest levels of excellence;
• Expertise in forging strategic partnerships in the public and private sectors;
• Keen analytical and problem solving abilities;
• Knowledge of HUD public and assisted housing programs, including Operating Subsidy, Capital Fund, asset management, HOPE VI/Choice Neighborhoods, mixed-finance development, and the Housing Choice Voucher program; and
• A competent working knowledge of public housing software programs/systems, HUD systems, business applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, etc.), and the internet.

• Develop and implement an agency recovery plan and lead LHA’s recovery efforts;
• Lead the day-to-day operations of LHA, including but not limited to public housing asset management (admissions, continued occupancy, maintenance, etc.), housing choice voucher program management, procurement and contract oversight, financial oversight, grant administration, human resources, and staff supervision;
• Oversee the finances of LHA, including but not limited to the development, proposal, implementation, and monitoring of annual budgets that support LHA’s financial recovery; the review and evaluation of program outcomes to ensure efficient and effective allocation of resources; and the fulfillment of contractual obligations and payments;
• Correct performance and compliance deficiencies as identified by reviews and audits;
• As part of recovery efforts, evaluate the long-term viability of LHA’s public housing developments, make recommendations for further repositioning and/or redevelopment, and implement any approved repositioning plans;
• Conduct analyses of programs and practices, make recommendations for policy and organizational changes, and develop and implement operational procedures and plans to ensure LHA’s recovery is in accordance with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations;
• In collaboration with the HUD Recovery Administrator, and eventually with LHA’s Board of Commissioners, establish an agency vision, mission and annual goals and objectives;
• Represent LHA under the HUD receivership publicly and work within the community to develop support for LHA;
• Establish performance objectives for senior staff and evaluate performance annually using criteria that measures recovery and program outcomes, managerial performance and productivity;
• Prepare reports as required and/or requested by HUD and respond timely to data requests and inquiries; and
• Maintain and model ethical behavior and integrity and maintain appropriate confidentiality in the conduct of LHA business and HUD recovery activities.