6 commissioners yanked

Authority, parish head still at odds

Jefferson Parish President John Young abruptly removed the majority of the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners on Friday, just days after discussing his plans to meet with them and allow them to defend some of their recent actions.

Young sent out brief letters to commissioners Patrick Pierson, Hunley Dufour, William Boada, Terrell Harris, Mary Snowden and Simone Scanio notifying them that they had been removed immediately because of “neglect of duty.”

The notification came two days after Young said he would hold individual meetings with all nine commissioners to discuss their roles in recent scandals that have enveloped the authority.

The authority was ripped in August by an inspector general’s audit for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that found nearly $700,000 in questionable spending and contracts. Those findings were upheld by HUD this week, although the authority has until the end of March to challenge those findings.

Young said Friday evening those scheduled meetings were only a “courtesy,” and he made his decision because it seemed like things at the authority were going from “bad to worse.”

The six commissioners recently thwarted Young’s attempts to have former authority Director Barry Bordelon removed from his new position with the authority.

On Wednesday, those commissioners either opposed Bordelon’s firing or abstained from voting on the issue, which allowed Bordelon to keep his new job as a maintenance foreman. Young said it felt like commissioners viewed the audit as “no big deal.”

“They’re not, in my opinion, trying to clean up the Housing Authority,” said Young, adding that he took the totality of the situation into consideration, not just a single vote. “It’s run amok, and it’s time for me to make a change.”

Although Young’s action is immediate, commissioners have 10 days to appeal that decision to the Jefferson Parish Council. Young said council members can make new appointments to the board immediately.

Councilman Chris Roberts, one of the authority’s most strident critics, said Young’s decision was the proper one and needed to be made.

He said the obvious “shenanigans” needed to be addressed to send a clear message about what will be allowed in the parish.

“I think it’s long past time,” Roberts said.

His representative, Jonathan Liberto, will remain as a commissioner along with Lynn Giordano and Brian Eiselen.

But Councilman Mark Spears was livid at the decision, calling Young’s move the actions of a “dictator.” Spears said that when he questioned Young about the removals, particularly that of Terrell Harris, who represents Spears, Young said they were because of Wednesday’s vote.

Harris, Scanio and Snowden supported keeping Bordelon, while Dufour, Pierson and Boada abstained from the vote.

Spears said it’s “un-American” to remove a commissioner simply because of how they voted.

He wondered if Young will decide to remove council appointees on other boards if they don’t fall in line with his thinking.

“Because they didn’t believe like John Young believed, they got rid of them,” said Spears, who pledged to fight to keep Harris on the board if he files an appeal.

“To remove someone who was back there, who cares about the people, makes no sense to me.”

Pierson, the board’s chairman, said he was hand-delivered his letter on Friday, and he found Young’s decision “disappointing” although not surprising.

Controversy had been swirling around Pierson, Boada and Dufour for months after several parish council members tried to have them removed.

Pierson eventually sued the council in a case that is now pending before the Louisiana Supreme Court, according to Pierson’s attorney, Steven Faulkner. Faulkner said Young’s decision raises an interesting dilemma because now his clients must try to appeal Young’s choice to a governmental body that’s already tried to illegally remove them.

But Pierson said what bothers him is the sense that he was removed simply because he disagreed with Young over Bordelon. Pierson said the authority’s new executive director was fine with Bordelon’s job performance.

He claimed that Young initially tried to influence whom the authority hired as its director immediately after Bordelon resigned.

“It looks like to me that John Young is trying to remove commissioners who didn’t vote for a resolution,” Pierson said. “I’m a little bit disturbed by the turn of events.”

HUD’s audit found serious problems at the authority, including accusations that there were conflicts of interest and improper procedures in the awarding of several large contracts, along with problems with commissioners receiving payments.

There also were accusations that Bordelon improperly used authority credit cards.

Pierson said he still believes many of those issues will be cleared once the authority submits documentation in March.

But Bordelon’s rehiring as a civil service employee became a massive point of contention between the authority and a bevy of outside observers who found it unseemly. Bordelon was rehired by his former assistant without the knowledge or input of many commissioners just a few weeks after he resigned amid blowback from the audit.

For weeks, commissioners resisted firing Bordelon, initially citing his civil service status and then his acceptable job performance.

Young has pushed for Bordelon’s removal throughout his independent investigation of the authority and provided commissioners with several reasons why the removal was justified and legal.

Young said Friday he was upset that recently it seemed like commissioners were trying to delay a decision on Bordelon so that he could collect full retirement benefits. Two recent board meetings couldn’t be held because commissioners failed to attend, and a quorum wasn’t reached.

“It flies in the face of good government,” Young said. “It just smacks of impropriety.”

But Pierson and Spears claimed that neither Young, nor the commissioners he retained, were deeply involved in the authority’s improvement.

Spears claimed he’s never seen Young or any other council member involved in a single activity at the public housing complex. Pierson said the board members who were removed have been unfairly maligned.

“These were good people on that board,” Pierson said.