LHA saga sinks to new low

by Leslie Turk

Rarely known for his PC, City-Parish President Joey Durel now has a role in pushing the Lafayette Housing Authority saga to a new low, referring to former Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams as a "piece of garbage."

Rarely known for being politically correct, City-Parish President Joey Durel now has a role in pushing the Lafayette Housing Authority saga to a new low, referring to former Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams as a "piece of garbage."

In today's Daily Advertiser, Durel, apparently frustrated at being called a liar by Williams - who is also threatening a lawsuit - had this to say about Williams' allegations: "To have a piece of garbage like that make those comments should be expected." Think what you will of Williams' rhetoric, but the C-P president was out of line - and should have taken the high road.

Williams has offered no specifics for his allegations about lies Durel told or the basis for any slander lawsuit.

On KPEL this morning, Durel didn't back down from the comment or apologize for it but did, so it seemed, acknowledge it was not his finest moment. In a phone interview at about noon today, Durel expressed regret at allowing himself to be pulled into the controversy by Williams. "This is not about Chris Williams. I'm disappointed that I let myself get distracted. ... I shouldn't express my opinions like that," he said, noting that the work of the LHA and the assistance it should be providing to low-income residents has taken a back seat to the attention being paid to Williams.

Williams has come out swinging since Monday, when the state legislative auditor publicly released its findings on the LHA, in particular the disastrous Disaster Housing Assistance Program that prompted the investigation. Williams, who was a case manager for the program since 2007, was terminated along with four other contractors in August. The audit paid specific attention to Williams' role, noting 91 hours that overlapped between his two jobs at UL (one is full-time, the other a night job teaching) and work on the DHAP. For example, on a Sunday in 2009, Williams claimed to have been working overtime from 2 to 9 p.m. at UL and also claimed four of those same hours on the DHAP, where he was paid $37 an hour. The DHAP checks were actually written to his nonprofit, but he signed the time sheets as Chris Williams, case manager, and LHA officials believed he was the only person doing the work; former LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory says Williams was hired for the job because he has a Ph.D. It's unclear whether Williams also got time and half at UL for the Sunday work, and the audit does not stipulate what he was doing for UL that Sunday.

Williams also was found to have claimed 59 of the 91 hours on the DHAP while he was teaching a political science night class at UL. Williams says employees of his nonprofit Lafayette Training and Career Development Center worked on the DHAP. It seems more than coincidental that none of Williams' hours for his full-time job with UL's Department of Special Services were shown to conflict with the DHAP work, which raises the question of why his employees did not perform DHAP duties during the weekday. When auditors asked, Williams was unable to produce any LTCDC records or time sheets showing the specific hours his employees worked on the DHAP. In fact, the audit points out that he had no records of specific hours worked by any of his employees. Williams responded that such documentation was not necessary because the hours worked by him and his employees far exceeded the maximum 40 per week allowed by the contract.

Williams also told KLFY TV-10 that Durel, state Rep. Rickey Hardy and LHA board member Donald Fuselier lied about his involvement in the alleged improprieties that took place. In his perplexing response to the audit, Williams claims his employees did so much work on the DHAP that the LHA actually ended up making $1.5 million on the taxpayer funded program. KLFY checked out the claim with the HUD monitor who is serving as interim executive director of the LHA; Dan Rodriguez told the TV station he had no idea what Williams was talking about.

Read more about the DHAP and Williams' role in this week's lead news story.