State officials intervened Tuesday into an ongoing dispute between Mayor-President Kip Holden and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux over homeland security funds issued to East Baton Rouge Parish.
The director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Mark Cooper, sent a letter to the city-parish saying GOHSEP is assuming control of allocating about $1.1 million in homeland security grants that have been delayed for more than a year.
The letter was addressed to JoAnne Moreau, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security, and copied to Gautreaux and John Carpenter, the mayor’s chief administrative officer.
Cooper wrote that Holden had recently said he would not participate in a mediation process required by GOHSEP to resolve the disagreement, which revolves around a new requirement of obtaining the sheriff’s signature to apply for the grant.
“The purpose of this letter is to notify you that GOHSEP will assume administration of the 2009 and 2010 grants …” the letter said. “Please note that GOHSEP is not at this time de-allocating these funds from the Parish, but is exercising its authority as the Grantee to ensure that the funds are utilized promptly and properly for the good of the citizens …”
Four federal grants from 2009 and 2010 totaling $4 million have been on hold because they lack the sheriff’s signature, which GOHSEP says is a requirement of state grant guidelines because 25 percent is dedicated to law enforcement.
But Holden has refused to allow Gautreaux to sign the applications, arguing that GOHSEP lacks the legal authority to impose the requirement on federal grants that GOHSEP administers.
Although GOHSEP has yet to approve the city-parish’s grant application and spending plan, the Holden administration has already spent $1.2 million from the fiscal year 2009 grants, records show.
On Tuesday, Holden said Cooper is “blatantly violating Louisiana law” by creating a new requirement that he says gives the sheriff veto power over parish homeland security funds.
“Things changed in law cannot be changed arbitrarily,” he said.
Holden noted there must be notice, public comment and hearings. He also said he was awarded a lifetime achievement award this year for his work in state emergency preparedness in part for helping to write the very law that he says Cooper is violating.
“This is just an orchestrated campaign by Mark Cooper and Sid Gautreaux who are playing politics at its worst,” he said. “They’re trying to portray me as anti-law enforcement.”
GOHSEP is only taking control of two homeland security grants worth $1.1 million.
Of those, it will be allocating $330,720, or 25 percent, to a law enforcement subcommittee led by Gautreaux.
Two other homeland security grants, totaling $2.9 million, are under the regional Urban Area Securities Initiative program and also require that a 25 percent share be used for law enforcement purposes, as determined by a law enforcement committee headed by the sheriff.
In the Tuesday letter, Cooper set a July 18 deadline for the Mayor’s Office to show that local law enforcement has been consulted for UASI grants.
GOHSEP officials have said they also will take control and administer the UASI grants if the mayor refuses to follow grant rules, but have not yet taken that step.
Gautreaux said he has had two meetings with the heads of local law enforcement in the parish to determine the use of the federal funds he’s waited a year to receive.
He said the group agreed that the money will be used to purchase an observation tower, which can seat two law enforcement officers and has telescope abilities, high resolution cameras, night vision equipment, radio communication and computer communication.
He said the Sheriff’s Office already purchased one tower like it and uses it for large gatherings such as football games, fairs, and shopping centers during the holidays.
The tower, he said, costs about $100,000.
It will be shared among law enforcement agencies. The remainder of the funds will be used for training.