Lafayette board refuses to respond to demand letter

The Lafayette Parish School Board could be going to court over $200,000 an insurance consultant says the board owes for work associated with the selection of an administrator for the school system’s insurance plan.

In an 8-0 vote, board members decided not to respond to the demand letter from the attorney representing the Tikia Consulting Group until the matter goes to court.

Board member Tehmi Chassion was absent from the vote but showed up a few minutes after the short, 15-minute meeting ended.

“We don’t owe this lady any money and I think in order for her to get anything from us, she would at least have to sue us, is that correct?” board member Shelton Cobb asked.

Board attorney Roger Hamilton told Cobb he was correct.

Board member Greg Awbrey opposed responding to the demand for money.

“If we pay every demand that comes our way...we’d have a stack of letters,” Awbrey said.

The board hired Tikia Consulting in June for work associated with vetting proposals and recommending an administrator for the district's self-funded employee health insurance plan, but the board never approved a contract with the firm.

The selection process had been riddled with complaints by employees and some companies who submitted proposals for the job.

In flip-flop votes, the board initially rejected Tikia’s recommendation to hire a new administrator, Key Benefits Administrators, then voted to accept the recommendation only to later decide to restart the selection process.

Thursday’s special board meeting was the first since Feb. 5, when police officers were called to investigate Chassion’s complaint that superintendent Pat Cooper grabbed his arm and yelled at him during a closed door meeting about the demand letter.

Before Thursday’s meeting, board President Hunter Beasley said he requested a security officer be present at the meeting to help keep order.

“I’m thinking it could be a pretty emotional meeting,” Beasley said prior to the meeting.

The meeting was tame, ­though during public comment before the board’s vote, Beasley and Awbrey interrupted former board member and former state Rep. Rickey Hardy several times to remind him of meeting procedure.

Hardy asked several questions, such as whether Tikia Consulting had a contract, and how much she’s owed for the work she completed. Awbrey interjected, telling Hardy he’s not allowed to interrogate the superintendent or board members.

Hardy then referred to media reports about claims by School Board members Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham that Rina Tikia, of Tikia Consulting, offered them Saints tickets before a board vote on the insurance issue last year. He asked if any board members had received anything of substantial value from Tikia Consulting, but Beasley interrupted him.

“We’re not getting into allegations that are being put out in the media. This is not the purpose of the meeting. What you are talking about is something totally different,” Beasley told Hardy.

Efforts to reach Rina Tikia by phone and email were not successful Thursday.

The demand letter, dated Feb. 3, gives the board 15 days to respond or face potential litigation.

“Tikia Consulting never received any communication from LPSS that its services were in any way deficient,” wrote the firm’s attorney, Rodger Wheaton, in the demand letter.