Gretna — The Jefferson Parish Council upheld Parish President John Young’s decision to remove five commissioners from the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority.
The board’s vote Monday came after more than five hours of testimony at a special council meeting and followed another five hours of testimony Friday.
With the decision, commissioners Simon Scanio, Mary Snowden, Hunley Dufour Jr., Patrick Pierson and William Boada are removed from the board, and replacements must be appointed.
Councilman Mark Spears abstained from a vote on several commissioners and voted against the removal of Snowden. He called the decision “capricious.”
However, the decision does not end months of contention at the housing authority because the commissioners will appeal that decision in federal court, Council Chairman Chris Roberts noted.
“The likelihood is that it’s your intent to take that issue up in the federal court,” Roberts told the commissioners’ attorney Robert Garrity Jr.
In fact, a federal lawsuit already has been filed claiming that the due process rights of Dufour, Boada and Pierson were violated because they had to appeal Young’s decision to a board that already had voted to remove them.
The council unanimously voted to remove the three men last year but then rescinded that decision on Friday.
“We had to appeal to the same group that fired us,” Garrity said after the board took mere minutes to render a decision. “This whole deal is a sham.”
Garrity also claimed that Roberts went after the authority to steer a contract at the entity to a crony.
During Monday’s hearing, Garrity continued to hammer the idea that there was never a clear standard given for why the commissioners were removed, and he pushed the idea that Young made his decision prematurely.
Young has said he removed the commissioners for “neglect of duty” because of their cozy relationship with former Executive Director Barry Bordelon and their decision to rehire him, despite a negative audit from the inspector general of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Young only allowed commissioners Lynn Giordano, Brian Eiselen and Jonathan Liberto to remain on the board. Commissioner Terrell Harris was removed but did not appeal that decision.
That audit said the authority improperly spent or improperly documented more than $655,000 in federal money, and questioned how Bordelon handled bids and other contracts at the authority. It caused a political firestorm, which eventually led to Bordelon’s resignation at the urging of Pierson. Bordelon was rehired by his former assistant without the input or knowledge of several commissioners.
The authority has submitted a response to HUD challenging many of the audit’s findings.
Garrity had Pierson painstakingly recount all of the board’s decisions and his conduct as chairman of the board. He also pushed the idea that the council’s denial of the commissioners’ appeal was a foregone conclusion. Thomas Anzelmo, the attorney representing the parish, said Garrity’s claim was baseless and troubling.
“This council, I believe, has a duty to base its actions on the facts and evidence presented in this case,” Anzelmo said. “The notion that the council has prejudged is offensive to me.”
Garrity also used Pierson’s testimony to reinforce the idea that Young ignored questionable behavior by some commissioners while targeting others. He disclosed that Liberty had missed six monthly meetings in the past 12 months.
Garrity claimed that Giordano, Liberto and Eiselen were willfully uninvolved in the operation of the authority, but Young did not remove them. He also said that by refusing to fire Bordelon after he was rehired, an action that Pierson said was motivated by fear of a lawsuit, commissioners were behaving responsibly. He noted that it was in line with legal opinions the board receives.
“Our position is that vindicates (Pierson’s) decision in not voting to terminate,” Garrity said.
However, Roberts said commissioners got their legal opinion from Wayne Mancuso, an attorney hired by Bordelon. He also raised the issue of whether Mancuso was working for the parish and the authority at the same time, which raises ethical concerns.
“It appears as though there may be conflicts that exist with Mr. Mancuso’s involvement with the housing authority in general,” Roberts said.
Anzelmo consistently challenged Pierson on his inaction on Bordelon’s firing and the general practices of commissioners.
He said the audit provided clear evidence that Bordelon’s conduct was unacceptable. But Pierson disagreed, saying the process still isn’t finished. Garrity also stressed that Bordelon has never been accused of failing to adequately perform his new job.
“He’s been accused of something, and now we want to hang him,” Pierson said of Bordelon.
Near the end of the hearing, council members asked the attorneys and participants follow-up questions. Councilman Mark Spears stressed the idea that HUD never requested that Young remove commissioners and reiterated his belief that Young’s decision was hasty.
Roberts asked Pierson why he was spending so much time and money to keep a nonpaying position. The commissioners hired Garrity with their personal funds, and Pierson said it’s about protecting their integrity. He said commissioners dedicate hours to helping the housing authority, and they don’t appreciate they way they’ve been made to appear.
“We’re angry,” Pierson said.