Attorneys confident of Livingston’s case in FEMA dispute

Livingston Parish’s arbitration attorneys say they remain confident in the parish’s case for $59 million in unpaid Hurricane Gustav cleanup costs, despite accusations of fraud and misconduct in the debris removal effort.

Parish President Layton Ricks told the Parish Council on Thursday that the parish’s legal team at Baker Hostetler in Washington, D.C., is preparing to answer the 192-page pleading the Federal Emergency Management Agency filed Friday in the case.

FEMA has alleged that monitors the parish hired to oversee the removal of leaning trees and hanging limbs from parish rights-of-way were inexperienced, poorly trained and specifically advised to document ineligible work and submit fraudulent claims for reimbursement.

Livingston’s attorneys will respond to FEMA’s allegations by Monday, Ricks said.

The arbitration case is before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals.

The panel wants to hold a hearing on the matter as early as April or May, rather than waiting until August or September as previously projected, Ricks said.

RECORDS ACCESS: The council again deferred until its next meeting a vote on a proposed ordinance to grant council access to parish administration records.

In the meantime, Councilman Jim Norred, who sponsored the ordinance, and Chairman Ricky Goff will meet with Ricks to try to iron out a policy for records access that would render the ordinance unnecessary.

The ordinance, as written, would grant the council’s clerk and finance chairman access to the administration’s electronic records-keeping system, known as Laserfiche, as well as parish archives and other documents.

The ordinance does not specify the types of records sought, raising concerns about the security of employee health and disciplinary records.

However, council members have assured the administration they are seeking access only to financial documents and contracts.

BOND RATING: Standard & Poor’s has maintained the parish’s AA- bond rating, with compliments on how the parish handles its finances, bond attorney Jim Ryan said.

The parish’s only weakness was a lack of retail, Ryan said, noting that per capita spending within Livingston is only 55 percent of the national average.

That will change when Juban Crossing is completed, Councilman Marshall Harris said.

Ryan agreed, saying new plans for the development include four phases, building up to 1.5 million square feet of retail and 800 single-family homes in a River Ranch-like community with a town center and general store.