LAFAYETTE, La. (IND) – During its March 17 meeting, the Lafayette Housing Authority approved a resolution to conduct a national search for a new executive director after abruptly deciding not to renew the contract of its current executive director, Katie Anderson.
And that decision is not sitting well with a former member of the housing authority’s board of commissioners.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, former LHA Chairman Buddy Webb sounded off for the first time on his disillusionment with the widespread corruption at the agency and questioned why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been running the local agency since 2011, terminated Anderson’s employment. Webb made clear his dissatisfaction with the decision to not renew Anderson’s contract at the end of May, saying she has by all accounts been righting the ship and is among the most respected housing officials in the state.
Webb mainly took issue with HUD’s refusal to give a reason for terminating Anderson’s contract. An answer could have come on March 17 from Floyd Duran, the housing director in Albuquerque, N.M., who is the most recent person to serve the dual role of LHA receiver and board chairman. Duran, who has held the post for about 18 months, attended last week’s meeting.
Webb began his work with the LHA in 1995 when the NAACP asked him to serve as an advisory board member. At the time, it was under the receivership of HUD in New Orleans due to discrimination in housing. Webb served in that capacity until it became an actual board of commissioners five years later, returning to local control under the leadership of Executive Director Walter Guillory.
“During the five years as an advisory board, I’ll be quite honest with you, we had no contact whatsoever with HUD,” said Webb. “They were supposed to be overseeing Lafayette. Well if they were, I never saw them. They never met with the board, never really explained to the board what your positions were, what you’re supposed to do and all these kinds of things.”
Webb then described his working relationship with Guillory.
“Walter Guillory, to his credit, did straighten out the discrimination and stuff and started innovating in programs, daycare, things of that sort,” recalled Webb. “And all of a sudden, he became quite recognizable in public housing. He was like one of the superstars, because Walter had reinvented housing. And I guess you kind of fall into that trap [because] I had known Walter before; otherwise I would not have gone over to the board.”
Webb went on to discuss a 2008 audit finding showing that Guillory had taken money out of a Section 8 reserve fund to pay for the development costs of St. Antoine Gardens, a low-income housing tax credit project in north Lafayette.
“That’s a big no-no,” said Webb. “I asked Walter about it, and he said, HUD was aware of it in New Orleans. ‘It’s all going to be taken care of. The developer is going to pay us the money back.’ So that was 2008. I’m waiting for the 2009 audit to see if that had been taken care of, because that was a big amount of money.”
Webb says that he continued pressing Guillory about the audit until finally calling the CPA directly and discovering that the audit had been completed three months prior and sent to the LHA office in 2010 with Webb’s name on it. Webb said he was shocked at what he saw when he finally read the report.
“Then I realized the abuse that was going on here in Lafayette,” said Webb, noting that the audit, which eventually led to Guillory’s departure and federal criminal charges against him, revealed widespread corruption at various levels of the agency.
Mayor-President Joey Durel moved quickly to remove the local volunteer board (Webb had resigned immediately after alerting local officials about the audit findings), leading to HUD’s takeover of the local agency. The dismissed board members sued Durel, and he repeatedly declined HUD’s offers to name a new board.
Guillory was sentenced to 28 months in prison in 2014 after being convicted on bribery and bid-fixing charges.
Guillory was the only LHA employee who went to prison, but the audit had uncovered many more questionable dealings. Surely few can forget the Herculean workload of former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, who records show worked the equivalent of full-time as an LHA case worker while also working full-time at UL Lafayette, among other gigs. Williams and several other case workers were fired amid the scandal and sued for back-pay. After insisting for months that it would not settle Williams’ suit, HUD caved in 2014, just as it had done for at least three others who filed similar lawsuits against the federal agency, and cut Williams a $30,000 check.
“There were so many people on the payroll here, [including] a lot of people in the community,” Webb said at the meeting. “Years back there was even one of Joel Robideaux’s administrators, that was a security ‘expert’ that was on the payroll of housing and for whatever reason they let him go.” Webb says records show that Marcus Bruno (who is now Robideaux’s “government and constituent relations officer,” a newly created position) was working 25 hours a week for the housing authority at the same time he was working full-time for Lafayette Consolidated Government. Bruno’s work for the LHA was unbeknownst to the LCG administration, a former high-ranking official tells The IND.
Amid accusations that Bruno had abused his position at LCG, his government job was eliminated in 2009 in what at the time was called a “restructuring” by the Durel administration.
“The reason I’m saying this [is] there were so many people at the trough,” said Webb. “Then there was the [Disaster Housing Assistance] Program where Walter hired his friends [and was] paying them upwards of $90,000 a year without documentation with contracts that were written up by the assistant director, one without even Walter’s knowledge or approval.”
Webb said he called HUD in 2010 about the questionable 2008 audit findings to see if they had addressed it, only to discover that HUD hadn’t even looked into it.
“I guarantee you, had I not addressed these issues and being a banker had a little bit of knowledge of financial statements, it would’ve probably gone on unnoticed and wouldn’t have drawn up any red flags,” Webb said. “So that being said it was a great big disaster. And it was very unfortunate because it really hurt me because Walter was a very close friend. And no one likes to do it, but if you’re breaking the law, you’re breaking the law.”
The March 17 history lesson was necessary, Webb later told The IND, to explain why he does not trust HUD and its decision to remove Anderson. He fears that politics may very well be at play.
“She cleaned up a mess. And I say a mess with a capital M,” Webb said, noting Anderson’s record of clean audits in recent years.
“Ya know, if she were a civil service employee, she’d have every right in the world to challenge that decision because you have to have a reason not to renew a contract, of why not to keep you employed,” Webb said. “But under HUD, you’re just gone.”
Webb was quick to point out that he was not at the meeting just to plead Anderson’s case but to remind anyone who will listen what might happen yet again under the wrong leadership.
Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has agreed to reappoint the five board members – one of whom must be a resident receiving assistance from the LHA – that would bring the LHA out of HUD receivership and back under local control.
Robideaux has not responded to The IND’s request for the names of board members under consideration; he told The Daily Advertiser he would name a board by the end of March.
A HUD spokeswoman confirmed to The IND that Robideaux will also have a role in choosing the new executive director.
“They may have their reasons for not renewing her contract,” Webb said. “[But] I think this community is owed an explanation.”
[This article was originally published in the March 2016 edition of The Independent and on TheIND.com. Additional reporting by IND Editorial Director Leslie Turk.]