Kenner — The fallout from Jefferson Parish President John Young’s investigation into the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority began Wednesday when Young requested that the former director of the authority be fired from his controversial new position with the agency.
Young told the authority’s Board of Commissioners that Barry Bordelon should be fired from his job as a maintenance supervisor because his re-hiring “reeks.”
Bordelon is the former executive director of the agency who resigned in August amid accusations of waste and abuse. Those accusations were based on a scathing audit by the Office of the Inspector General for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that accused Bordelon of excessive and inappropriate spending of federal money. Bordelon has denied those accusations.
After his resignation Bordelon was rehired within a month by his former assistant to manage some of the authority’s recovery from Hurricane Isaac. The board of commissioners was not consulted in that decision, and neither was the agency’s interim director.
Young said it was obvious that something was wrong as soon as Bordelon received the new position. Young is conducting an investigation into the authority in the wake of the audit, and while that examination continues, he said it was clear that Bordelon needed to be fired.
“I just think that (hiring) reeks of impropriety,” Young said.
Dalton Simmons, the interim executive director of the authority, did not respond to a request for comment, and Patrick Pierson, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, declined to comment on Young’s request. He said he had not seen the letter.
Councilman Mark Spears has urged that the parish move carefully when dealing with the authority, and he said Bordelon should be judged by his current job performance not any previous accusations. Spears said that HUD still has not made a determination on the audit’s findings, and accusations of misconduct are premature. Bordelon, who is also a former commissioner, was hired because he was the most qualified applicant, Spears said, and Young has not explained why he needs to be fired.
“If he’s doing his job based on the guidelines and requirements of that job, he should be allowed to keep that job,” said Spears, who added that since Bordelon is a civil service employee he can’t just be terminated.
However, civil service employees have a probationary period of six months to two years, and during that period they can fired at will. Young said it’s crucial that the board take action now before that probationary period expires.
Councilman Chris Roberts, who has been one of the most persistent critics of the authority, said Young made the right move in requesting Bordelon’s termination. In fact, he wondered how anyone could have ever thought his hiring made sense.
“I think it was an inappropriate thing for them to hire him in the first place,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he was disturbed to learn that Paragon Accounting, a firm with strong ties to Bordelon, is conducting the agency’s annual internal audit. Parish Attorney Deborah Forshee said that some of the documents the parish has sought in its investigation are currently being used by Paragon. Forshee noted that the parish is already reviewing about 1,600 documents related to contracts handed out during Bordelon’s tenure and is now seeking e-mail messages and bank statements from the same time period.
Kenner resident Al Morella said that Young just needs to clean house at the authority and questioned why he hasn’t moved to eliminate commissioners. Roberts, along with Councilmen Elton Lagasse and E. Ben Zahn, sought to have three board members removed, but that action can only be taken by Young under state law.
Young noted that the audit didn’t single out any particular board members for misconduct, which means he would have to remove the entire board.
“Yes, the audit report was scathing, but it did not mention any particular board members” Young said. “We are moving forward … As the parish attorney said, we will not leave any stone unturned.”
Spears reminded Morella that Young can only remove board members for “cause,” and said cause has not been shown. That term typically applies to neglect of duty and felony convictions. However, Morella, a colorful figure at Kenner City Council meetings, disagreed.
“Six-hundred thousand dollars of our money spent, and you don’t consider that cause?” Morella said. “When somebody misspends $600,000 of my money, that’s all the cause I need.”