Metro councilman seeks resignations over IG report

Metro Councilman Trae Welch said he plans to ask for the resignations of three board members of a rural utility district after a state inspector general’s report accused the board of violating state laws regarding open meetings.

If the three won’t resign, Welch said, he will hold a public hearing before the Metro Council to remove them.

The three — Greg Carroll, Charles Hinton and Lear Flagg — are on the Gas Utility District No. 1 Board of Commissioners, which is the gas provider for about 3,300 homes in the northeastern part of the parish.

The Metro Council appoints seven members of the nine-member board, and Central and Zachary each appoint one member. Carroll, Hinton and Flagg were appointed by the Metro Council.

Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street issued a report March 21 that accused the district’s board of violating the state’s open meetings laws, hiring an attorney without a board vote and improperly disciplining an employee.

Specifically, Street said, the board held a workshop in August 2011 attended by Carroll, Hinton, Flagg and four other members who are no longer on the board. The meeting was not open to the public and changes were made to the district’s policy manual at the meeting, which is a violation of open meetings laws, the report says.

A second private meeting was held in July, the report says. Hinton and Flagg both attended the meeting along with four former board members. No public notice of the meeting was given, the report says.

An Aug. 6 meeting was canceled due do the death of District Operations Manager Randy Croft. However, an hour after the scheduled meeting time, the board members met anyway, the report says.

The report also said that the board never voted to hire Denham Springs attorney Ivy Graham, the board’s attorney. Carroll “announced” that Graham had been hired at an April 2, 2012, board meeting, the report says.

Graham billed the district $150 each for attending the July and August meetings, which the inspector general said were also held illegally.

Street’s report says that Carroll denied employee Thomas Smith’s request for a public hearing about a five-day suspension.

The board discussed the suspension behind closed doors without voting to close the meeting, the report says.

On Monday, the board — with six new members — voted to overturn Smith’s suspension and awarded him his forfeited pay. Smith now serves as interim operations manager for the district.

Since December, the six new members have been appointed to the board, Phyllis Sims, the board’s secretary said. Carroll, Hinton and Flagg are the only remaining members of the board cited in the inspector general’s report.

Elmer Lee Kirby, a former board member who attended many of the meetings cited in the inspector general’s report, blasted the board in an August resignation letter.

“I have recently started doing some research on my own and realize many open meeting laws have been broken by this board, including myself,” Kirby wrote in an Aug. 24 letter.

Kirby tried to raise the issue at an Aug. 6 meeting, but he said in the letter that he was laughed at by other board members.

“I cannot partake in anymore shady things going on,” he wrote.

Hinton said recently he had no intention of resigning.

“I didn’t get an answer as to why I should get off the board,” he said, referring to a conversation he had with Welch.

He said the inspector general’s report had some facts wrong.

Hinton said Flagg took notes at the meetings that would refute many of the allegations in Street’s report.

Calls to a number for Carroll went unanswered.

Messages left at Flagg’s home were not returned.

The problems with the board have not affected the district’s customers, Smith said.

“There’s been no effect on service,” he said. “No effect on the district’s finances.”

Welch said with the six new members, the board has moved forward.

“I think the board’s on the right track,” he said. “I think they know what it means to be board members.”

The only issue remaining, he said, is to remove the three members.

Welch plans to formally ask Carroll, Hinton and Flagg to resign, he said. If they refuse, he will issue a formal notice of a public hearing to remove them from the board. That hearing would be heard before the full Metro Council as early as April 24, he said.

“It’s an unfortunate deal all around,” he said. “I think it just kind of got out of control.”

Gas Utility District No. 1 District workers install and maintain gas lines, set rates and collect payment for about 3,300 customers in northeastern East Baton Rouge Parish, Smith said.