Durel appoints new LHA board

by Leslie Turk

Amid a legal challenge by three board members who were dismissed in August, City-Parish President Joey Durel has named a new board of commissioners for the troubled Lafayette Housing Authority.

Amid a legal challenge by three board members who were dismissed in August, City-Parish President Joey Durel has named a new board of commissioners for the troubled Lafayette Housing Authority.

Durel named Amos Batiste, Kevin Carrier, Gregory Dugas, Mary Guidry, Penny Malbrew and Shirley Vige to the board of commissioners. "As has been widely reported, serious issues have been raised by an independent audit of the affairs of the Housing Authority," Durel said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "Each of these individuals brings a significant level of experience in financial and legal matters as well as good sense, which will be of great benefit in addressing the serious issues raised in the audit. I want to publicly thank these citizens for answering the call and agreeing to serve in this capacity," he added.

Amos Batiste is being appointed to a three-year term. He is a sales director for Acadian Ambulance Service, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and has significant management experience.
Kevin Carrier will serve a one-year term. Carrier has been a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch for 16 years and has a degree in management from LSU.  
Gregory Dugas is being appointed to a four-year term. He retired from Delmar Systems in 2009 after 25 years where he served most recently as its VP/CFO. He is a CPA, and he began his financial career as an auditor in 1973.
Mary Guidry will serve a two-year term. She is a CPA with approximately 20 years in the banking industry and is currently a senior VP for IberiaBank. She also has significant auditing experience.
Penny Malbrew is being appointed to a five-year term. She is an associate attorney with the Liskow & Lewis law firm.
Shirley Vige Jr. is being appointed to serve a one-year term. He is a CPA with more than 30 years of experience performing accounting, consulting and audit services for public housing authorities.

These six join LHA board member Donald Fuselier, the only board member retained by Durel in the wake of the audit. Durel's authority over the LHA is limited to appointing and dismissing board members; he did not accuse the dismissed board members of any wrongdoing but has said they were negligent in their duties.

Audits over the past several years have raised serious questions about how the LHA conducts its business, and the 2009 audit led to multiple state and federal investigations of the agency's operations. Five Disaster Housing Assistance Program case managers, including former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, were fired after the audit revealed that they were each being paid for 40-hour work weeks without turning in time sheets - all the while some of them were holding down other jobs. In the case of Williams, it was multiple additional jobs. The 2009 audit questioned $243,000 paid to the workers through the federal housing program. Read more here.

"It should be noted that three of the individuals appointed by Mr. Durel are being appointed to the vacancies created by former Commissioners who either resigned or did not appeal their dismissal," City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger said in the statement. "With respect to three other vacant seats on the Board of Commissioners, although their dismissals have been upheld by the City-Parish Council, the dismissed individuals chose to file a lawsuit to seek reinstatement to their voluntary, uncompensated positions. Although the suit did not originally seek a temporary restraining order, and although its pendency does not otherwise prevent the seats from being filled by appointment, out of respect to the judicial process, the decision was initially made to not fill those three seats pending resolution of this litigation."

After state District Judge Ed Rubin denied a temporary restraining order filed by former board members Joe Dennis, John Freeman and Leon Simmons to prevent Durel from filling these positions, the city-parish president moved ahead with the appointments, Ottinger said. "The important work of the Housing Authority is being adversely affected by the absence of a fully staffed Board of Commissioners," Ottinger said.

Rubin denied the restraining order Sept. 30; a hearing to settle the issue of whether the board members were properly removed, including whether they are entitled to a new appeal in front of the City-Parish Council, is set for Tuesday.