LHA fighting Williams' suit?

by Leslie Turk

A closed meeting involving HUD officials and LHA's new COO appears to indicate former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams may actually have to prove his case for backpay.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from HUD's spokeswoman.]

In August, former Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams filed suit against the Lafayette Housing Authority seeking back wages, penalties and attorney's fees. The suit accuses the LHA of breach of contract between the federally funded housing agency and Williams' non-profit Lafayette Training and Career Development Center Inc. Williams was hired in January 2008 by the LHA to provide training to Hurricane Katrina evacuees through the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program. He was fired after an audit that found numerous problems with how the program was being run.

Williams' suit came on the heels of the LHA's decision to settle lawsuits - quietly, had we not asked - by two former contractors who worked on the controversial disaster assistance program. Linda Jefferson and Myra Parker, who were terminated with Williams and two others on Aug. 13, 2010, were paid $40,000 after they sued for backpay. All three cite a clause in the contract with LHA stipulating that the housing agency was required to give them 30 days notice before terminating the DHAP contract.

"The Housing Authority of Lafayette (HACL) recently settled lawsuits brought against it by Linda Jefferson ($10,000) and Myra Parker ($30,000). The settlements have been paid," HUD Regional Public Affairs Officer Patricia Campbell wrote last month in an email response to The Independent. "While the Housing Authority is confident it would have prevailed in court, the HA chose to settle, on the advice of its legal counsel, because the cost of continued litigation would have exceeded the amount of the settlements. HACL's focus is on moving forward, and providing the best possible services to residents and the community."

Williams et al were initially hired at a rate of $16.08 per hour working 80 hours bi-weekly for a $1,286 paycheck every two weeks plus a $300 car allowance. The contract was renewed in December of that year to extend until March 31, 2010, increasing their hourly take to $30 and their bi-weekly paycheck to $3,260 - this while Williams was working a full-time job in the Special Services Department at UL Lafayette.

Williams' herculean work load - simultaneous "full-time" jobs - was brought to light as a result of an independent audit on the LHA, an audit that led state and federal officials to investigate DHAP. In August of 2010, as the LHA saga spiralled out of control - its top executives would soon resign their positions amid intense federal scrutiny and unflattering media coverage - the agency terminated DHAP and canned Williams.

The Daily Advertiser reported Friday that HUD officials, acting as the LHA board, met yesterday in executive session to discuss strategy for Williams' suit but no resolutions were adopted. Ada Holloway with HUD in Atlanta, Dan Rodriguez of HUD in Texas and LHA Chief Operating Officer Katie Anderson met for nearly an hour, the daily paper reported.

"Mr. William's case is being handled entirely on its own merits," HUD's Campbell says, "just as the Jefferson and Parker cases were."

The other two DHAP case managers, Beatrice Wilson (aka Porsha Evans) and Charlie Esie, did not file suit to recover any money. Campbell says no out of court cash settlements have been made to either of them.